Namibia Loses Ivory Export Bid at CITES Meeting
Author: Ed Stoddard
"The African elephant has been thrown a life-line," Kenyan delegate Patricia Awori told Reuters after the vote at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the Thai capital.
Kenya, which lost most of its elephants during violent "ivory wars" with poachers in the 1970s and 1980s, had opposed any further sales of the commodity.
Kenya maintains that the 1989 ban on the global trade stemmed the slaughter of its elephants and poachers would be tempted to launder "dirty" ivory with fresh legal supplies.
Namibia, Botswana and South Africa were granted permission for conditional one-off sales of ivory in 2002 at the last CITES meeting. Those sales have yet to take place, partly because a system to monitor illegal elephant killings is not fully operational yet.
Kenya maintains that no further sales should be granted until those sales take place and an assessment is made to see if they contribute to poaching or not.
"No proposals (to sell ivory) should be considered until those one-off sales have taken place. Hold those sales and then see what impact they have," Awori said.
Namibia has close to 14,000 elephants and the population in the arid southwest African country is healthy and growing.
It maintained that sales of the coveted commodity, used for decorative carvings and jewelry, would raise badly needed cash for elephant conservation projects.
"Without a way of benefiting from elephants, elephants are regarded as a liability and economic cost to rural communities, who suffer crop losses, other damages and lose human lives to elephants," said Namibia's proposal.
Other southern African countries agree and point out that swelling human and elephant populations are bound to lead to further conflict between the two species.
Namibia was given permission to trade in elephant leather and hair goods for commercial purposes. A South African proposal to trade in elephant leather commercially was also approved.
Kenya's assertion that legal trade contributes to poaching was weakened by a report presented to the conference which suggested that booming demand in China and unregulated domestic markets are the biggest drivers of the ivory trade.
African countries pledged a crack down on their ivory markets, although enforcement will be tough in nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the state's writ does not extend to large swathes of the country.
The ivory trade is a jumbo issue in the conservation world, with elephants viewed by many as majestic creatures and symbols of a vanishing wilderness.