for National Geographic News
The sale of 60 tons of African elephant ivory to Japan has been approved by the international body that oversees trade in endangered wildlife.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, came to the decision on June 2 at the start of a major conference in Hague, the Netherlands.
CITES is an agreement between 171 countries that meet every two to three years to review more than 7,000 animals and 32,000 plants for which trade is regulated. About 800 species are banned completely from commerce, including elephants.
But CITES' authorization of the one-off ivory sale has split wildlife conservation groups and African nations, with those opposed to the move saying it will fuel the slaughter of elephants by poachers.
The ivory comes from animals in southern Africa that died of natural causes or from legal culling. The stockpile consists of 30 tons from South Africa, 20 tons from Botswana, and 10 tons from Namibia.
Proceeds from the sale will go towards funding conservation efforts, officials from the three countries said.
The export had been agreed on in principle in 2002 but was conditional on the establishment of an effective system for monitoring elephant populations and illegal poaching and on Japan's ability to comply with resale restrictions.
Both requirements have now been met, the CITES standing committee decided.
The new measures could open the way for similar decisions in the future, allowing some countries to seek income from elephant products to finance wildlife conservation, said Willem Wijnstekers, the convention's secretary-general.
Driving Up Demand?
But other African countries have opposed the sale, which is an exception to the global ivory trade ban introduced in 1989. Delegates from Kenya and Mali said that such exceptions should be ruled out for at least 20 years.
Trade in legal ivory, these countries argued, "provides an opportunity for laundering large quantities of illegal ivory."
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