Ministers from the African elephant range states have for the first time achieved a consensus on how to address the controversial issue of international trade in elephant ivory. Some trade will be allowed before a nine year ban is imposed under the agreement reached today at the conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.
CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade worldwide in 1989. But some southern African elephant range states have sought to sell ivory from healthy and well managed herds, saying they need the proceeds for conservation. Other African range states and most environmentalists say that even legal trade in ivory will increase the poaching of elephants.
Under the compromise forged in the pre-dawn hours this morning, each of four southern African countries will be permitted to make a single sale of ivory in addition to the one-off sale totaling 60 metric tons that was agreed in principle in 2002 and given the go-ahead by the CITES STanding Committee on June 2.
The ivory for these new sales will consist of all government-owned stocks that have been registered and verified as of January 31, 2007. Each sale is to consist of a single shipment per destination and may only go to countries whose internal controls on ivory sales have been verified as being sufficient by the CITES Secretariat.
After these shipments have been completed no new proposals for further sales from these four countries are to be considered by CITES during a "resting period" of nine years that will begin as soon as the new sales have been completed. The four countries that will be permitted to market their ivory are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
An elated Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng'etich described the breakthrough as, "Africa's finest hour, a proud moment for the continent, its people and the elephant."
Tusks from elephants illegally slaughtered in southern Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries are carved into souvenirs for tourists. (Photo by Esmond Martin courtesy Care for the Wild International)