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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ivory Auction in Southern Africa: Good or Bad Idea?

The first official sale of ivory since 1999 opened in South Africa today.  It's a controversial auction which is sanctioned by the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a UN body.

The sale of ivory has been banned globally since 1989 because poaching was decimating the population.  Since then, until today that is,  there has only been one sale in 1999.  Starting today Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will auction more than 100 tonnes of ivory mostly from elephants that died naturally.  Buyers will be from China and Japan who will have to comply with strict conditions and are not  allowed to export the material.  Additionally CITES will monitor trade in China and Japan to make sure companies are not mixing illegally sourced ivory with these legal shipments.  The money raised will go into elephant conservation projects. The 1999 auction raised about $5 million for conservation projects.  This time about $30 million is expected.

Some environment groups say the sales encourage poachers elsewhere in Africa to kill elephants for ivory that can be fed into the illegal trade.

"We are deeply concerned that these sales will open the floodgates to additional illegal trade," said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation.  "For some inexplicable reason some people think that all elephant populations are adequately protected and thriving. Nothing could be further from the truth."

"This new decision is like pouring petrol on an open fire. It is naïve and deadly. Already more than 20,000 elephants are estimated to be illegally killed and dismembered every year by poachers. That’s 55 every day. That’s two every hour." 

Data collected by the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic shows that seizures of illegal ivory fell in the years following the last legal sale in 1999.

"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."

Given the number of factors contributing to demand and supply I'm not sure that the decrease after the 1999 sale can be attributed to the sale per se.  What do you think?

Further Reading:
Traffic - The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
New York Times: eBay will ban ivory sales
Born Free: Stop the Poachers



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