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HUGE WIN FOR ELEPHANTS AT CITES: NO IVORY SALES

March 22nd, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

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We are very pleased to report that proposals by Tanzania and Zambia that would have allowed one-off sales of ivory and weakened protections for elephants were defeated today at the 175-nation Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, Qatar.

Tanzania and Zambia were seeking to sell more than 100 tons of ivory worth more than $20 million and to downlist elephants to a lesser degree of protection, despite charges that the countries have failed to stop poaching and combat the illegal ivory trade.

At one point, Zambia withdrew its controversial request for an ivory sale in hopes of winning the downlisting of elephants, which would have conferred them less protections and allowed live exports and a regulated trade in elephant parts – the first step toward the sale of ivory in the future. We are dismayed that the U.S. supported this revised proposal, which failed to win the required two-thirds vote.

There is a clear link between one-off ivory sales, the last of which occurred after the 2007 CITES meeting, and a serious increase in elephant poaching. Even elephants in relatively protected areas such as the Amboseli National Park in Kenya have come under serious attack. AP reports that such sales revive dormant markets by sending consumers the message that it’s okay to again buy ivory; it also makes it difficult to differentiate between legal and illegal ivory. Had the sales been granted, the ivory would have been sold to China and Japan, the only countries requesting to purchase it. Ivory is mainly used for jewelry, carvings and personal seals.

The global ivory trade threatened to wipe out Africa’s elephants in the 1970s and 1980s, reducing the continent’s population of elephants by half – from an estimated 1.3 million to fewer than 600,000 individuals – before a ban on ivory sales in 1989. Even with the ban, an estimated 38,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks, though the number may be as high as 60,000. Conservationists believe that, without intervention, elephants could be nearly extinct by 2020.

This victory was possible due to the efforts of the 23-nation African Elephant Coalition, which also sought a 20-year moratorium on the sale of ivory that was unfortunately rejected at the conference. Contributing invaluable scientific evidence against the proposals were Dr. Joyce Poole of ElephantVoices and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, and Dr. Sam Wasser of the University of Washington, who presented compelling data detailing the problems behind the proposals, the detrimental effects of poaching on elephant society, and the DNA evidence implicating Zambia and Tanzania in multiple ivory seizures around the world.

IDA thanks everyone who contacted Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and their elected officials, urging the U.S. to take a position against the proposals by Zambia and Tanzania.