TRAFFIC press release
October 28, 2008
Namibia is the first of four African countries to auction its stockpiled ivory in the CITES-regulated "one-off" ivory sale Click photo to enlarge TRAFFIC
Gland, Switzerland/ Cambridge, UK, 28 October 2008-Four African countries are holding "one-off" ivory auctions over the next two weeks. South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe have been approved by the member governments of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to sell ivory from government-managed stockpiles to Japan and China under very strict conditions.
The CITES member governments approved this sale in 2007, and have agreed that Japan and China meet all of the requirements for tight enforcement controls on the ivory auctions. The first auction took place today in Namibia when three buyers from Japan and three from China bought 7.2 tonnes of ivory for a total of USD1.18 million. The remaining 1.8 tonnes of the 9 tonnes on offer will be used by local craftsmen.
The African Elephant populations in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe are all listed in CITES Appendix II, which allows commercial trade under a permit system if several conditions are met. In terms of ivory specifically, there must be proof that the ivory being sold does not come from poached elephants, that all stockpiles are strictly regulated, that importing countries have strict control systems in place, and that all the proceeds go to elephant conservation programmes and community development programmes in the exporting countries.
WWF and TRAFFIC have active programmes in the countries involved and have been pivotal in developing the rigorous criteria that countries were required to meet before the sale could be allowed. We believe that all countries have met the criteria. WWF and TRAFFIC have also reviewed and consider adequate the control mechanisms in place in Japan and China. We will continue to monitor closely those controls after shipments take place.
"We have no evidence that this one-time sale will stimulate increased poaching or increased illegal trade in ivory," said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF International's Species Programme. "There is no evidence that supports this claim but WWF and TRAFFIC will continue to monitor the issue closely."
Following the previous one-off ivory sale to Japan in 1999, analysis of ETIS (the Elephant Trade Information System, a statistical database containing the world's largest collection of elephant product seizure data, which is compiled by TRAFFIC on behalf of the CITES member countries), indicated a decline in the volume of illegal ivory trade for the next five years.
Data from ETIS, compiled by TRAFFIC on behalf of CITES parties strongly indicated a decline in illegal ivory trade following the previous "one-off" sale to Japan, in 1999
According to Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC: "The ETIS data strongly indicate a fall in illegal ivory trade levels following the previous one-off' ivory sale. Whether this was cause and effect or a coincidence, we don't know, but TRAFFIC and WWF will be watching closely to see what happens to ivory seizure and elephant poaching levels once these auctions have taken place."
There is still significant poaching in Central Africa, which feeds the domestic ivory markets in Africa, which is where conservation efforts need to be focused. Poaching in Central and East Africa is not driven by the legal sale from Southern Africa; rather, it is driven by a failure to regulate domestic markets in West Africa, Egypt, and elsewhere
"WWF and TRAFFIC believe that attention should be focused on these markets, and on facts rather than conjecture as to what drives poaching and what drives illegal ivory trade", said Dr Lieberman.
Big Question: Is it right to sell ivory, or does it just encourage the poaching of elephants?
By Jerome Taylor, The Independent
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Why are we asking this now?
Because the first officially sanctioned auction of raw ivory since 1999 kicked off in Namibia yesterday and made $1.2m (£770,000) from a commodity that it is normally illegal to sell. Over the next month, four southern African nations – Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe – will sell more than 100 tons of tusks that have either been collected from elephants that died of natural causes or were killed in population management schemes. The controversial auctions are expected to make as much as $40m, which will then be ploughed back into conservation programmes. It is only the second UN-approved sale of ivory to be held in almost 20 years.
But isn't the sale of ivory forbidden?
It is. An international ban on selling ivory came into force in 1989 after endemic poaching sent Africa'selephant populations into freefall. Between 1979 and 1989 the number of elephants in Africa halved from1.3 million to 625,000, with Kenya alone losing 85 per cent of itselephants. Since then, the number of pachyderms in Africa has climbed to approximately 450,000, but an estimated 20,000 are still killed every year by poachers who sell tusks on the black market, in a multi-million-dollar industry run by criminal syndicates around the world.
So why are the auctions going ahead?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – the regulatory body set up by the UN to enforce the ban – has given the four southern African nations special permission to hold a series of one-off auctions. There will then be a "resting period" of nine years in which no more ivory will be sold, in order to ensure that inter-national stocks of bona-fide ivory are safeguarded.
How did these auctions come about?
In the late 1990s, the four southern African nations, led by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, began agitating for one-off auctions at which they might sell legally obtained ivory. They argued that in central African nations such as Chad, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic ofCongo, where elephants are still critically endangered, poaching remained rampant. Meanwhile elephant populations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana were thriving and at times even becoming a problem. CITES agreed, and allowed them to sell 50 tons of ivory in 1999 to Japan, the only nation that the UN said had the necessary controls in place at the time to separate illegally sourced ivory from officially sanctioned tusks. Last year, CITES gave the same four nations permission to hold a second series of auctions and added China to the "buyer approved" list after the Chinese government successfully persuaded regulators that their officials were now much more active in combating illegal ivory.
Does everyone agree these auctions are a good thing?
Certainly not. Numerous scientists and conservation groups were furious when CITES approved the second auction last year, describing it as tantamount to a "death sentence" for the world's elephants. Their concern is that any legitimatisation of the ivory trade, even in those countries where elephants are doing well, will encourage poachers and consumers to carry on buying illegal ivory.
What are the main concerns?
Firstly, opponents of the auction are worried that the sudden influx of over one hundred tons of ivory on to the Japanese and Chinese markets will make it very easy for poachers to smuggle illegal tusks and pass them off as legally obtained. There are also fears that poachers in central, east and west Africa, where elephants are still highly endangered, will be encouraged to increase the amount of illegal poaching there.
So is poaching on the increase?
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), has more than 20 years experience in tracking ivory smugglers and exposing their tactics. They believe poaching has risen in the run-up to the auction. Julian Newman, EIA campaigner, said yesterday: "CITES' own comprehensive international monitoring system for tracking illegal elephant products, has shown an increase in ivory seizures – driven by rising demand.
"Coupled with a lack of sufficient checks made by importing countries such as China and Japan, together with instability in some African range states, this could easily drag us back to the dark and bloody days of the 1980s, when we were seeing around 200 elephants killed by poachers each week." Disturbing reports from Virunga National Park in the Republic of Congo indicate that more than 10 per cent of its elephant population has already been lost to gangs of ivory poachers this year. Meanwhile, the Zakouma National Park in Chad is facing difficulties, with more than 700 elephants poached each year for their valuable ivory tusks.
Will Travers, head of the Born Free Foundation, said yesterday: "We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade.
"For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth. For many of the most vulnerable elephant populations, any increased poaching pressure will almost certainly result in localised extinction."
Can China be trusted to monitor illegal shipments?
CITES certainly appears to believe that China is doing enough to combat illegal smugglers, otherwise they would not have awarded them "approved buyer" status for the auctions. CITES' complex Elephant Trade Information System, which marks a country out of 100 for how effectively it tackle ivory smugglers, gave China just 5.6 points in 2002 which rose to 63 points yesterday.
However, earlier this year Chinese claims to be tackling smuggling were dealt a serious blow when the EIA leaked a Chinese government memo which admitted that in the past 12 years officials had lost track of 120 tons of ivory from the government's own official stockpiles. And in Kenya, which opposes the current auction, a number of Chinese nationals were convicted of smuggling in 22 out of 37 African elephant-range states. Conservationists claim the vast majority of the world's smuggled ivory is still bought by China.
Conservation groups have also criticised the British Government. Why?
Britain, representing the European Union, was among nine regional representatives of nations that supported China's bid to buy up ivory in these special auctions. Conservation groups have now called on Britain to ensure that no illegal ivory becomes mixed with and sold on as legally obtained tusks. Robbie Marsland, director of the UK branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said: "The Government must now ensure that elephants do not suffer as a result of this decision."
Should there be officially sanctioned ivory auctions?
* Unlike black-market tusks, ivory sold at auction is from elephants that have either died or were culled.
* Any money made from the auctions will be ploughed into conservation programmes.
* Carefully monitored and legally sanctioned auctions might help stem the flow of black market ivory.
* Selling ivory, even at sanctioned auctions, encourages demand and that inevitably encourages poaching.
* Elephant populations are stable in southern Africa but they are perilously endangered elsewhere.
* China is the number-one destination for illegal ivory, but it is not doing enough to combat illicit trade.
Conservators hope to make R100m from SA ivory
By Tony Carnie, Independent Online
November 3, 2008
South African conservation agencies could raise as much as R100-million this week, when a massive stockpile of 51 tons of elephant tusks goes on sale at the country's first ivory auction in two decades.
Some of the tusks are bigger than a very tall man. Others are small sticks, small enough to slip into a trouser pocket.
Although the once-off sale of hoarded ivory has been sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the auction on Thursday morning is likely to reignite vigorous debate on the morality of culling the world's biggest land-dwelling animals, and on encouraging a market which has decimated elephant populations in many parts of the continent.
In a bid to broadcast its side of the story to the world, South African National Parks (SANParks) threw open the doors of its secret ivory vault in Mpumalanga at the weekend.
Before entering, journalists had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the precise location of the vault or other details which might compromise the security of the storage facility.
Though it is clean, orderly and well ventilated, there is a pungent, musty smell pervading the warehouse containing the tusks from several thousand African elephants which died between 1988 and 2005.
The causes of death were old age, disease or combat wounds inflicted by stronger territorial bulls, either in the Kruger National Park or game reserves in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and North West.
Yet almost half of these animals were killed by the bullets of conservation agency marksmen employed to remove "surplus" animals in the Kruger Park before SANParks imposed a moratorium on culling operations in 1994 because of pressure from international conservation and animal rights organisations.
More recently, Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has re-opened the door for elephant culling with the publication of a new "norms and standards for elephant management" policy to deal with the burgeoning number of elephants cooped up in finite living spaces in conservation areas.
SANParks communications head Wanda Mkutshulwa refused to be drawn on how much money could be raised from Japanese and Chinese ivory traders at Thursday's auction.
"This is a commercial transaction and we do not wish to speculate on any figures. We really don't know what prices buyers will be prepared to pay," she said, noting that this was the first legal sale of South African ivory since a world-wide ban on elephant product sales was imposed in 1989.
In the 25 years preceding this ban, it was estimated that more than 80% of Africa's elephants were slaughtered to feed the market for ivory and other elephant products.
But several Southern African nations subsequently managed to persuade Cites to relax the ban in countries which had protected and built up elephant populations, to the point where there was concern that too many elephants in national parks would decimate other endangered plant and animal species.
While SANParks won't speculate on how much money will be raised, Namibia conducted a Cites-approved auction last month, where ivory is said to have fetched prices of around $150 (R1 500) per kilogram.
Based on this, the South African stockpile could raise about R100-million.
Cites will impose a nine-year moratorium on bulk ivory sales after Thursday's auction.