(Jun 4, 2007)

UN allows ivory trade to Japan

From Reuters

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A United Nations wildlife pact has allowed the export of 60 tonnes of ivory from three southern African countries to Japan amid concerns about the growth of the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching in parts of Africa.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) decided on Saturday to permit the one-off sale of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, saying it would monitor closely the impact on poaching and population levels.

CITES, whose 171 member nations begin a two-week meeting in The Hague on Sunday, is credited with stemming the slaughter of the African elephant by banning the global ivory trade in 1989.

But scientists and environmentalists say the killing of elephants for their tusks, mainly in central Africa, has now reached levels not seen since 1989, as Asian-run organized crime gangs push the illegal ivory trade to unprecedented heights.

Last year alone, experts estimate as many as 23,000 African elephants were illegally killed.

Some environmentalists say that a CITES decision to allow a one-off sale of 50 tonnes of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe in 1997 increased black market demand for ivory and put elephants in grave danger.

The convention allowed the 1997 exports on the ground that some southern African elephant populations had recovered and were well managed.

A second one-off sale was agreed in principle in 2002 but was made conditional on the compilation of up-to-date data on elephant poaching and population levels. The CITES Standing Committee agreed on Saturday that this had been done and the 60-tonne export of existing stocks to Japan could go ahead.

The debate on elephants is between the benefits that ivory sales may bring to conservation and local communities living side by side with large and sometimes dangerous animals, and concern that such sales may increase poaching, CITES said.

"The baseline data will make it possible to determine objectively what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching," it said in a statement.

The meeting in The Hague will see heated discussion as African countries are split between those wanting to protect the beloved elephant and those which say elephant populations have grown at an unsustainable rate.

Botswana and Namibia want looser conditions on ivory sales from southern African countries, while Kenya and Mali seek a 20-year moratorium on sales from those countries to reduce poaching.

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