Namibia first to auction ivory stockpile

Posted by Laura Grant on October 28, 2008
Posted in Conservation

The first of Southern Africa’s legal ivory auctions will be held today in Windhoek, Namibia. Willem Wijnstekers, the secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which sanctioned the auction, is in Namibia to oversee the sale. The country will sell nine tonnes of ivory.

Japan and China have been approved as buyers. Mr Wijnstekers will hold talks with Chinese and Japanese authorities, as well as traders, on the details of how Cites will monitor the ivory on its arrival in those countries and thereafter, said Cites in a statement.

Cites has stipulated that the proceeds of the sales must be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes within or next to elephant ranges. “The revenues are expected to boost the countries’ capacity to conserve biodiversity, strengthen enforcement controls and contribute to the livelihoods of the rural people in Southern Africa. All this without affecting negatively African and Asian elephant populations,” said the organisation.

The next auction will be of Botswana’s 44 tonnes on October 31. Then follows Zimbabwe’s four tonnes and South Africa’s 51 tonnes next week.

In a BuaNews report, South African National Parks (SANParks) said the sale of South Africa’s stockpiled ivory will benefit elephant research, conservation and community development. “There is no argument that this money will go a long way towards enhancing conservation research, boosting our enforcement capabilities and helping communities who share land with elephants,” said David Mabunda, the SANParks CEO.

According to BuaNews, the money will also improve conservation through the employment of additional game rangers, obtaining more vehicles, erecting elephant-proof fences where needed and the purchasing of equipment.

But some conservationists argue that legal ivory sales open the doors for laundering of illegal poached ivory. Although conservation efforts in southern and eastern Africa have been successful enough that elephants moved from vulnerable to near threatened on the latest IUCN Red List earlier this month, not all elephants in Africa are adequately protected from poaching, they argue.

The last legal sale was held in 1999, when Japan paid $5-million for almost 50 tonnes of stockpiled ivory. According to Traffic, a joint programme of the WWF and IUCN that monitors the trade in wildlife around the world, the illicit trade in ivory “declined over the next five years” after the 1999 one-off sale. “We hope a similar result is achieved this time,” Traffic said in a statement earlier this year.

In June, Dr Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International’s Species Programme, said: “The sight of ivory openly and illegally on sale in many African cities is likely to be a far more powerful encouragement to those contemplating poaching and smuggling, than a strictly controlled one-off sale. The only way to end elephant poaching is through an effective clampdown on illegal domestic ivory markets.”

Traffic said that China had gained approval to buy ivory in the latest legal sale because it had convinced Cities that it had acted successfully against its own illegal domestic market. Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa said: “Now China should help other countries do the same, especially in Central Africa where elephant poaching is rampant and Chinese nationals have been implicated in moving ivory out of the region.”

Sources: AFP, BuaNews, Traffic, Cites, BBC

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