Elephant ivory auction produces low prices, controversy
October 30, 2008
The first internally-sanctioned auction of elephant ivory since 1999 produced lower-than-expected prices, but plenty of controversy, reports Reuters.
The Namibian government sold 7.2 metric tons of ivory for $1.2 million, or an average price of $164 a kilo, to Chinese and Japanese buyers in what was the first of four auctions by southern African governments over the two weeks. The proceeds from the sales of the ivory — confiscated as contraband or collected after the culling of "problem elephants" — will go towards funding conservation efforts.
Sales had been expected to top $300 per kilo, but a conservationist who is overseeing the sales said the auctioned ivory was of substandard quality.
"The reason was probably that the Namibian ivory was not the best quality," Willem Wijnstekers, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), told Reuters. "Some of it is weathered and cracked."
Wijnstekers added that the low prices might be a sign that interest in ivory is waning or that the financial downturn is cramping demand.
Elephant in Uganda
Nevertheless other research has indicated that the illegal trade in elephant ivory is thriving. A series of studies, reports, and investigations have shown an uptick in elephant poaching in countries and regions where law enforcement is lax. Some worry that the current auctions will cloud the market, legitimizing the trade in ivory, whether it is legally or illegally sourced.
The sales "could open the floodgates to illegal poaching" warned the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental group that in July revealed 110 tons of ivory – equivalent to the tusks of 11,000 elephants – has disappeared from China's government-controlled ivory stockpiles.
"Allowing this exorbitant amount of ivory to flood the market, considering the level of elephant poaching occurring today, is just plain irresponsible." said Michael Wamithi, Elephants Program Director for International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Over coming weeks legal ivory auctions will occur in Botswana (around 22 tons), South Africa (around 25 tons), and Zimbabwe (2 tons).
African elephant populations have plunged from millions in the 1970s to between 470,000 and 690,000 individuals due to poaching and loss of habitat. In response to a rapid decline in the 1980s, CITES in 1989 listed the African elephant on Appendix I, effectively prohibiting all international trade in elephants and their derivatives, including ivory. In 1997 some populations were down-listed to Appendix II, allowing trade with special permissions from CITES.
Last week eBay said it would ban the sale of ivory products after a campaign by conservation groups.