Wednesday, February 10, 1999 Published at 15:55 GMT
Ivory ban lifted
The tusks can raise money for conservation
The money raised by the sale will pay for conservation programmes in Africa. The decision was made after pressure from three southern African members at a meeting in Geneva.
They are Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana - known as the ZNB group - who argue their herds of African elephants are now so large they are damaging the environment. They say the elephants are destroying the vegetation on which other animal species depend. The elephants are also accused of trampling croplands.
Zimbabwe and Namibia will provide the ivory for the sale. Botswana will be allowed to market its stocks once it has fully complied with safeguards laid down by the CITES Secretariat.
The ZNB countries have large stockpiles of ivory. Zimbabwe has the tusks of more than a thousand elephants stored in one strong room alone. Its current value is thought to be £10m.
"It is clear that the criteria required by CITES for a resumption of ivory trade have not been met," said Bill Snape, legal director of Washington-based Defenders of Wildlife. "No trade should be approved unless clear evidence is presented that shows every requirement is thoroughly satisfied."
This view is supported by other African countries where elephant numbers have yet to recover from the poaching of the 1970s and 1980s.
Kenya, for example, has been one of the biggest supporters of the ban.
Sudan reported a 30% annual decline, and Tanzania 16%. Across the continent, the rate of loss was huge. CITES said that between 1986 and 1989, more than 300,000 African elephants were killed - almost one third of the total.
The decline in the African elephant population was steep:
The poachers' lucrative markets for the tusks - notably Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan - lost their supply source, and the trade in effect collapsed. Many African governments now fear the success of the ZNB countries in getting the ban lifted will rekindle the demand for ivory.
The BBC Science programme Horizon examines the arguments for and against the resumption of the ivory trade on Thursday, 11 February. The documentary is transmitted on BBC Two at 2125 GMT.