By Micheline Clawson
A call to resume the legal ivory trade as a way to stop the recent rise in elephant poaching in Africa was expected to dominate debate at a U.N. conservation meeting that began Monday.
The proposal was put forward in a report commissioned by the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty overseen by the U.N. Environment Program in Geneva. It would set up a centralized system to allow for the sale of ivory fromelephants that either died naturally or as a result of trophy hunting, or were considered a threat or culled for ecological reasons.
This is the first time such a proposal has been made since a global ban on ivory went into effect in 1989. That ban for the most part halted widespread poaching, but the problem has grown since 2004 as Asian demand for ivory chopsticks, statues and jewelry has risen.
“Given the present rise in illegal killing of elephants in West, Central and East Africa, it is clear that current measures are not containing the present upsurge in the illegal trade in ivory,” the report concludes.
The proposal, which would need to be voted on at the CITES meeting next year in Bangkok, was expected to set off a fierce debate, especially among African delegates attending this week’s gathering in Geneva.
Southern African countries, where the majority of elephants are, want some form of legal trade to help pay for their conservation efforts and sell off already growing ivory stocks. Central and East African countries have in the past opposed any legal trade, fearing it will undermine conservation efforts and further bolster the illegal trade.
Environmentalists, too, have come out against the proposal because they argue that the reasoning behind it — that legal trade would help reduce ivory prices, and thus demand — remain unproven.
A proposal for one-off sales by Tanzania and Zambia at the 2010 CITES meeting in Doha was defeated. More....