UN Body OK's One-Time Ivory Sale, Sparks Controversy

November 14, 2002

The votes on resuming the ivory trade have come in—and touched off an international firestorm. For the past 10 days, 160 nations have met in Santiago, Chile, at the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to discuss wildlife trade rules.

The meeting's most explosive issue was the ivory trade, banned since 1989. This year, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe had proposed to resume the ivory trade and to use the revenues for elephant conservation in their countries.

Kenya and India were opposed, arguing that resumption would trigger a resurgence of poaching, which would threaten elephant populations and, in turn, hurt safari tourism.

On Monday and Tuesday, CITES members voted to allow the "one-time" sale of 60 tons of ivory that have accumulated since 1989 in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa—at a world market value between $5 million and $10 million. One-time sales from Zambia and Zimbabwe were denied.

Ivory Gets the Green Light

"We are shocked that CITES has opened the ivory trade," says Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya. "This will jeopardize the safety of elephants in the rest of Africa.

"South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are some of the wealthiest countries in Africa and they have much more to offer than ivory. CITES has given the green light to the ivory trade, which will increase poaching in countries that lack the resources to combat it."

Kenya delegate Paula Kahumbu argues that the ivory trade is starting up before international safeguard programs are in place.

"Resuming the ivory trade is about national politics and ignores scientific concerns," Kahumbu says.

On the other side, South Africa insists it needs ivory revenue to fund elephant conservation.

"This is the first recognition that we should have the chance to sell ivory to support conservation," says delegate Pam Yako, deputy director general at South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

Continued on Next Page >>


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