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Friday, 14 April, 2000, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Quiz the experts on the ivory trade

The controversy over ivory trading has been dominating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference (Cites) in Nairobi.

The split is broadly between East African delegates who want a total ban on ivory sales, and Southern Africans who want to continue with last year's relaxation of the ban.

BBC News Online put your questions to the experts:

Dr Jon Hutton is the Director of the Africa Resources Trust and favours the trade of ivory.

Clare Perry of the Environmental Investigation Agency campaigns against the trade in ivory.


Questions put to Dr Jon Hutton:

Lydia Baben, Austria: The ivory trade should not only be restricted, but completely banned. Anybody who thinks of killing for trade calling it "trade in ivory benefits conservation giving the poor people a better life" is just trying to find excuses to OK such a cruel practice.

Jon Hutton: The reality on the ground is that with rapidly growing human populations, there is greater competition for space and natural resources throughout Africa. Despite an extensive network of protected areas, the majority of elephant in Africa live outside these areas.

This has led to increasing conflict between humans and elephant, particularly in southern Africa. In order to reduce this conflict, rural communities need a viable economic incentive and alternative.

The sustainable use of wildlife and the benefits accrued to communities provides that alternative. Habitat loss, which is the major threat to elephant in Africa, is being minimised and reversed. This benefits both wildlife and people.


B Makala, Botswana: The ivory trade should be legalised to only selected countries like Japan. Those countries dealing illegally should be punished.

Dr Jon Hutton: Through the proposals of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, last year's experimental trade in legal ivory was permitted to one trading partner only, Japan. This trade was given the green light after CITES had verified that all the parties concerned had complied with the requirements.

In Japan's case this meant implementing a rigid set of controls to monitor the imported ivory at manufacturing and retail levels to prevent re-export and laundering. This was done successfully. Future trade could be undertaken through this strictly controlled system to Japan or any other interested trading partner that complied with CITES' criteria and met the same levels of control.

Effective law enforcement with appropriate training and funding is required to combat the illegal trade. At the same time community conservation projects can address conservation and rural development priorities, which can in turn contribute to poverty alleviation for local communities whilst benefiting wildlife.


Andrea Lieberman, USA: The ivory trade is a disgrace and the ultimate cruelty to these gentle creatures. Should we render them extinct for ivory trinkets? Shame on the human race if elephant killing is allowed.

Dr Jon Hutton: The culling of elephant in certain southern African range states is based upon sound ecological principles and has been undertaken to reduce the overpopulated numbers of elephant in protected areas to sustainable levels, so that they do not threaten other fauna and flora in these areas as well as their own long-term future.

The legal ivory stockpiled in these countries comes from natural mortalities and this type of management control. None of the wildlife management authorities concerned cull elephant to simply supply trade.

Strictly controlled trade provides the means for these countries to benefit from these very valuable stockpiles. Benefits that have been re-invested into elephant conservation and rural development programmes around protected areas.


David Yates, UK: I used to visit South Africa and Zimbabwe quite regularly where there was little or no elephant poaching. Strong anti-poaching measures were in place and the local population benefited from a controlled ivory trade, which encouraged them to report poachers. In Kenya, the anti-poaching measures were a joke.

Dr Jon Hutton: The importance of effective enforcement and anti-poaching measures cannot be overstated. Experience in southern Africa has shown that where communities are actively involved with government, anti-poaching measures are most successful.

Unfortunately for the majority of range states the lack of resources and the breakdown of infrastructure and government services has led to enforcement shortages in the field. Poverty is the great polluter, and only by integrating conservation and development issues at the local level can threats to elephant and other wildlife be minimised.


Saidi Jarso, Kenya: I support the complete ban on international trade on animal products because it is not only inhumane to kill these animals but it is also a systematic destruction of our natural heritage. Allowing the lifting of the ban will impact negatively on the already successful reclamation of the numbers of this endangered species. It does not make sense to me that a partial lifting of the ban will improve the livelihood of the people.

Dr Jon Hutton: The proposals from Namibia, Botswana Zimbabwe and South Africa for further strictly controlled trade only concerns their elephant populations and no other range states' population.

There is no evidence to suggest that this trade has caused an increase in poaching, despite widely publicised unsubstantiated and inflammatory claims from certain parties and animal rights groups to the contrary. Tourism is only one way for impoverished rural communities to benefit from community conservation programmes.

However, tourism is a fragile industry which can easily be disrupted (ie current turmoil in Zimbabwe). It is also limited to areas with appropriate infrastructure and services. Trade is a legitimate and robust means of diversifying the source of benefits to communities.


Anon: It is amazing that European nations and America try to tell Africans what to do with their resources. Each country should decide to buy or sale as their best interest.

Dr Jon Hutton: The trade in legal ivory must be strictly controlled and monitored. CITES provides such a mechanism for this. The lessons learnt from the 70s and 80s show that where rigid trade controls are not in place, illegal activities can flourish.

The issue of the West dictating to Africa is highly sensitive and there are grounds for concern. The West can support national conservation programmes through funding to wildlife management authorities and local NGOs.


Skender Cilka, Albania: The trade should be banned. Absolutely. If there is money to made out there, the illegal killing of the elephants will continue no matter what measures the governments take.

Dr Jon Hutton: Despite the trade ban in 1989, illegal trade has continued, although it did falter immediately after the ban as a response to the collapse of the market in the USA and parts of Europe.

This has brought into question the effectiveness of trade bans by CITES which have not served to protect species like the rhino and the tiger. A strictly controlled legal trade based upon sustainable utilisation can undermine illegal activities and at the same time provide much needed revenue for elephant conservation.



Questions put to Clare Perry, EIA Campaigner

Nimish Patel, UK: It appears that three to four southern African countries are trying to dictate the policy against the wishes of the rest of Africa and most of the world. Yet no one seems to be pointing any fingers at the Japanese and the Chinese, who in fact are the main instigators of the opening of market. Why is this?

Clare Perry: Unfortunately a relatively small group of people in Japan have led a determined campaign to lift the ban and maintain consumer interest in ivory. EIA investigations recently in China suggest that the market in China is growing, and that country is now a major destination for shipments of illegal ivory.

Both of these markets do not have sufficient internal controls and any legal international trade to Japan or China will only create further opportunities to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants into these markets.

A boycott of these countries is not necessarily the best step to take - constructive engagement is preferable.


Isaac Mapaure, Norway: The ivory trade should continue at limited levels. It appears that most of the arguments against this are not based on scientific facts and data but on emotions and politics.

Clare Perry: Before the ban around 70,000 elephants were being illegally killed in Africa each year and elephant populations faced catastrophic declines. Around 94% of ivory in international trade at this time came from poached elephants.

After the ban in 1989, ivory prices dropped and there was a massive decline in elephant poaching. Since the ban elephant populations in some parts of Africa have started to recover.

This debate is not about emotions and politics, but about a trade that brings limited financial gain to a few African countries at great cost to the rest of African and Asian countries that are desperately trying to protect their elephants.


Stuart Monro, Scotland: Clearly there are strong pressures on both sides of the arguments. Isn't it about time the African countries joined forces?

Clare Perry: Good point. It is hoped that debate at CITES will allow all the countries to reach some agreement that they are happy with. However, it seems unlikely that compromise will be reached, while South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe continue to attempt to reopen ivory trade, in the absence of adequate monitoring and enforcement.


Chris Dunford, England: Are there not methods such as contraception which can be applied to limit elephant populations?

Clare Perry:There are alternatives to culling such as contraception or translocation. In fact, South Africa exports a number of live elephants each year to support populations in other neighbouring African countries.

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | Africa
Ivory debate splits conference
10 Apr 00 | Broadband
Gorillas under threat
04 Apr 00 | Africa
Ivory trade: Horns of a dilemma
29 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egypt seizes record ivory haul
18 Mar 99 | Sci/Tech
Shoot an elephant, save a species
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