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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Deadlock on elephant ivory deal
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, The Hague


As a major wildlife meeting nears its conclusion in The Hague, African nations are struggling to find a compromise on the ivory trade.

Southern African countries want to expand ivory exports; other nations want a complete ban for many years.

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) summit, some said the southern African bloc was negotiating in bad faith.

But other observers believe enforcement is the big missing issue.

Delegates from elephant range states have been in a succession of meetings, but remain deadlocked on the fundamentals.

"It's a difficult issue, and that's why there are two fundamentally different approaches," commented Michael Wamithi, international advisor for Africa to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

The arrival of ministers from a number of elephant range states gave negotiations a new impetus, but the deadlock proved impossible to break.

Regional divide

CITES has twice allowed southern African countries to sell limited quantities of ivory from stockpiles to Japan, as exceptions to the 1989 global trade moratorium.

At the beginning of this two-week meeting, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe had asked for annual export quotas of ivory from stockpiles.

"The Namibian elephant population has more than doubled in the last decade," said Namibia's environment and tourism minister Willem Konjore, "and illegal killing has been so low as to be insignificant."

Threatened organisms listed on three appendices depending on level of risk
Appendix 1 - all international trade banned
Appendix 2 - international trade monitored and regulated
Appendix 3 - trade bans by individual governments, others asked to assist
"Uplisting" - moving organism to a more protective appendix, "downlisting" - the reverse
Conferences of the Parties (COPs) held every three years
CITES administered by UN Environment Programme (Unep)

The willingness of the rural community to co-exist and share resources with elephants would be maintained, he suggested, if elephant products brought a supply of money back to the communities.

Kenya and Mali, meanwhile, had submitted a proposal requesting a 20-year moratorium on any further sales.

Tuesday brought five new proposals floating the possibility of further one-off sales rather than annual quotas, liberalisation of other commercial and non-commercial uses of elephant products, and a moratorium of six, nine or 12 years rather than 20 years on further sales.

To the concern of some conservationists, a further document was then introduced that could have allowed other countries such as Tanzania and Zambia to pursue one-off ivory sales at a later date.

Poachers skin an elephant
Illegal ivory markets pose a major problem
Botswana, meanwhile, could have disposed of 70 tonnes of ivory from stockpiles. In a document submitted to this CITES meeting, it claims to possess only about 45 tonnes from legal sources.

"They're trying to sell ivory that they don't have," said Rosalind Reeve from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, "and it'll have to come from culled elephants."

However, a Botswanan delegate said there was more ivory in regional stores which had not yet been incorporated into the national inventory.

Currently there is no culling in southern Africa to amass ivory, though elephants are shot when they become a serious problem for communities and in trophy hunts.

Missing the point?

A further Kenyan document sought to plug what some saw as the big hole in all these discussions - the high levels of poaching and low levels of enforcement in many African countries.

Tom Milliken, director of the southern and eastern Africa office of the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, presented the latest results from the Elephant Trade Information System (Etis), which collates data on illegal ivory seizures.

"We are now seeing a sharp upturn in seizures," he told delegates.

"The fact it's occurring now is a matter for concern because it occurs after the adoption of the African Action Plan at the last CITES meeting (in 2004), which was designed to close down the world's illegal ivory markets."

With the exception of Ethiopia, he said, few African countries had shown much improvement since then in their control of illegal markets. Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, he added, were countries of particular concern.

Of importing countries, Mr Milliken named China as a nation which had "demonstrated progressive improvement", but which faced major challenges.

Several delegates commented that unless these illegal markets could be controlled and shut down, there was little point in spending endless hours finessing the regulations surrounding legal sales.


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