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South Africa Auctions Ivory, Wildlife Group Protests

Date: 07-Nov-08
Country: SOUTH AFRICA
Author: Michael Georgy

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) criticised the sales as irresponsible, saying they would encourage poaching that has cut elephant populations drastically.

"By permitting legal trade in ivory, we are only encouraging the laundering of stocks by poachers, thereby increasing illegal hunting activities," IFAW elephants programme director Michael Wamithi said in a statement.

Four countries -- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe -- are permitted under a deal reached at The Hague last year to make one-off sales of registered ivory stocks.

The Namibian government on October 28 sold 7.2 tonnes of stockpiled ivory for $1.2 million, or an average price of $164 a kg (2.2 lb), to Chinese and Japanese bidders in the first of four auctions by southern African countries spread over two weeks.

Both Asian countries are traditional users of ivory.

The total sales of 101 tonnes in the four African countries generated some $15 million, in exemptions from a 1989 UN export ban.

Elephants, the world's largest land mammals, are under pressure in many parts of Africa from poaching, loss of habitats to farms and towns, pollution and climate change. Numbers have fallen to 470,000 to 685,000 against millions decades ago.

But Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa say they have rising elephant populations, causing increasing conflicts with people in rural areas.

Twelve Chinese and 22 Japanese buyers bid for the South African stockpiles in Pretoria on Thursday. The average price paid for the 63 lots on auction was $142 per kg.

"We fully appreciate and embrace our responsibility to ensure that we stamp down on poaching of any kind," South African National Parks chief executive David Mabunda said in an opening statement.

"We intend to use considerable amounts of the funds we raise today towards increasing our anti-poaching capacity."

But the IFAW said the sales would be counterproductive.

"Allowing this exorbitant amount of ivory to flood the market, considering the level of elephant poaching occurring today, is just plain irresponsible," Wamithi said.

"The situation is very clear: more ivory in the marketplace equals many more dead elephants -- and rangers," he added.

Every year, more than 20,000 elephants are illegally slaughtered in Africa and Asia to meet demand for ivory products, according to IFAW.

Last month the Internet auctioneer eBay Inc said it would institute a global ban on the sale of ivory products after a conservation group found 4,000 illegal elephant ivory listings on its site.

(Reporting by Michael Georgy; editing by Michael Roddy)

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