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Friday, April 9, 1999 Published at 19:13 GMT 20:13 UK

World: Africa

Namibia sells ivory

Only the Japanese are allowed to buy the tusks

The first legal sale of ivory for a decade took place on Friday in Namibia after the temporary lifting of an international ban.

The BBC's Africa Correspondent Jane Standley: It was an unusual auction
Private Japanese buyers bought the entire stockpile of 14 metric tons of elephant tusks at an auction in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

The sale was agreed by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the international organisation which regulates trade in endangered species.

A Namibian Government spokesman said prices in the three-hour auction had been to the satisfaction of everyone, but he would give no details.

Simon Jones: "A successful sale, but conservationists aren't happy"
"At this stage, we'd like to keep it a secret from the media," said Tangeni Erkana.

It is to be followed by further sales in Zimbabwe on 13 April and Botswana on 17 April.

The last legal sale of ivory took place in 1989, when the trade was banned to protect elephants from widespread slaughter for their tusks.

[ image: There are concerns the sales will encourage elephant hunting]
There are concerns the sales will encourage elephant hunting
The total ban was relaxed 18 months ago to allow Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana to sell their stockpiles of ivory from "problem" elephants which had been killed, or those which had died naturally.

CITES said that the countries could sell their stockpiles in 1999 if they met with stringent controls on poaching and illegal sales of ivory.

'Highly-controlled' sale

The organisation agreed to the sales in February at a standing committee meeting in Geneva.

Malan Lindeque, Namibia's leading elephant expert and the environment ministry official co-ordinating the auction, stressed that Friday's sale was "highly controlled".

He said it would not unleash a new wave of illegal elephant hunting in Namibia or elsewhere, and that poaching in Namibia was down to "negligible" levels.

[ image: Kenya is against the ivory sales]
Kenya is against the ivory sales
The southern African countries have also argued that their elephant populations have recovered so successfully from poaching that the animals are now a nuisance.

But the auctions have been criticised by wildlife activists who want to protect elephants at all costs.

And countries opposing renewed trade include Kenya which says that it lost 85% of its elephant herds to poachers, and that any trade in ivory will stimulate a demand again.

Revenue from the sale was to be invested in elephant conservation and community development programmes, and this has attracted the support of local conservationists.

The Japanese are the only people being allowed to buy the ivory sold at the three auctions. Japan is the world's main consumer of ivory, using it for figures and signature seals on official documents.

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