The first ivory auction in a decade sold over seven tons of tusks to Chinese and Japanese bidders Tuesday in Namibia, raising more than a million U.S. dollars for elephant conservation.
The sale took place under a special exemption to the international ban on trade in ivory.
Last year the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ruled that Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe could make a one-time sale of 108 tons of government ivory stocks.
Some environmentalists have condemned the sales, fearing they will encourage smuggling and poaching of African elephants.
$1.3 Million Netted
Tuesday's auction, held behind closed doors in the capital, was monitored by Willem Wijnstekers, CITES secretary general. In all, 7.2 tons of ivory were sold, fetching a total of $1.3 million at an average price of $164 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Proceeds will go to the Game Product Trust Fund created in 1999 to promote conservation in communities where elephants range. Most of Namibia's elephants are found outside protected areas and have to compete for land and resources with communities, which often leads to conflict between people and the animals.
"Without a way of benefiting from elephants, elephants can only be seen as a liability or loss to rural communities, who lose significant subsistence crops and even human lives," Leon Jooste, Namibia's deputy minister of environment and tourism, told reporters.
The two Chinese and two Japanese buyers were not named.
Most of the tusks came from elephants that had died of natural causes. Southern Africa is home to about 300,000 elephants—half of all the elephants on the continent.
Namibia had expected to sell over nine tons of ivory. The remaining tusks will be distributed to communities involved in making traditional jewelry. (Related: "Illegal Ivory Trade Boosted by Angola Craft Markets, Conservationists Say" [October 27, 2006].)
Over 44 tons will be sold in Botswana on Friday. Auctions next month will see 51 tons being offered in South Africa and almost 4 tons being offered in Zimbabwe.
No new sales from the four southern African countries will be allowed for the next nine years.
Ivory trade was banned globally in 1989, but reviving elephant populations allowed African countries to make a one-time sale in 1999 to Japan, the only country that had previously won the right to import ivory.
In July, CITES said China should also be allowed to bid for ivory, as the country had dramatically improved its enforcement of ivory-trade rules. CITES said it will monitor Chinese and Japanese domestic trade controls to ensure traders do not use this opportunity to sell ivory of illegal origin.
(See "Elephants Decimated in Congo Park; China Demand Blamed" [August 29, 2008].)
Open Season on Elephants?
The auctions have prompted widespread protests by animal rights activists. (Related: "Ebay Bans Ivory Sales Amid Conservation Concerns" [October 21, 2008].)
"The elephant ivory trade is responsible for the slaughter of at least 20,000 elephants a year," Christina Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.
"Relaxing the current international ivory trade ban, such as these stockpile sales, will signal to poachers that it is open season on elephants and provide them means to launder their illegal ivory stocks," she said.
But CITES's Wijnstekers disputed this.
"There is no proven scientific explanation that ivory sales lead to poaching," he said.