- Two proposals regarding the international ivory trade today failed to secure a two-thirds majority at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in Bangkok. Kenya had proposed a 20-year moratorium on ivory trading, while Namibia and South Africa had proposed a limited reopening of the commercial ivory trade. Instead, a Batswana plan to combat Africa's domestic ivory trade was adopted.
The trade of ivory products has become the most controversial issue at every CITES conference, splitting the environmentalist camp and splitting African nations. The ivory trade embargo was agreed on in 1989 after elephant poaching was threatening the survival of the species in all parts of Africa.
Meanwhile, however, at least South Africa, Namibia and Botswana have achieved establishing large and sustainable populations of elephants. The governments of these three Southern African nations now want to see financial results of their large and expensive efforts to secure the survival of the elephant and ivory from naturally dying animals has accumulated without any legal possibility to market the valuable product.
Namibia therefore spearheaded a proposal from Southern Africa to establish annual legal sales of up to 2,000 kilograms of ivory and to create a commercial trade in traditional ivory carvings. South Africa and Botswana backed the proposal and headed an international lobbying campaign in favour of this limited and strictly regulated ivory trade.
At today's CITES meeting, the Namibian proposal was however defeated because it was "premature," according to the environmentalist group WWF. "Namibia's elephant conservation programs are exemplary and highlight the community-based conservation programs that provide real benefits to local people," Ginette Hemley of WWF said. "But the global ivory trade should not resume until there is a system in place to track the impact of illegal trade on elephant populations," she added.
Also the Kenyan proposal, backed by the European Union (EU), to establish a 20-year moratorium on ivory trading was unable to achieve a two-thirds majority at CITES. A Kenyan watered down follow-up proposal asking for a further six-year "resting period" on ivory trade was also narrowly defeated.
The Kenyan-EU proposal was designed to create a further moratorium while African nations were to be given time to secure their elephant populations by stopping poaching. Outside Southern Africa, elephant populations are still declining as most countries lack sufficient resources to guard their national parks.
Many, but not all, environmentalist groups decried the failure to adopt the moratorium. According to the radical International Fund for Animal Welfare, "elephants around the world will pay the price" for the failure to establish an ivory trade moratorium.
The SITES conference however adopted a proposal put forward by Botswana and developed by most African governments, which is set to fight the illegal domestic trade in ivory. Domestic ivory sales are currently not subject to the same controls as international trading and, according to a CITES study, is responsible for most of Africa's elephant poaching.
The WWF today celebrated the new Africa-wide action plan against domestic ivory trading. "Enactment of this action plan is a conservation victory," said Ms Hemley. "For the first time, the plan endorsed today commits every African country with an internal ivory market to either strictly control the trade or shut it down completely."
CITES parties also voted today to allow trade in elephant leather and hair by Namibia and South Africa. "There is no evidence that elephants are poached for their leather or hair, so this trade is not expected to be a conservation threat," said WWF, thus expressing support for the decision.
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