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South Africa auctions last of ‘legal’ elephant ivory to China, Japan

South Africa auctions last of ‘legal’ elephant ivory to China, Japan

South Africa auctions last of ‘legal’ elephant ivory to China, Japan
November 7, 2008

South Africa sold 47 metric tons of elephant ivory to Chinese and Japanese buyers for $6.7 million in what was the final of four auctions sanctioned by CITES, an international agreement on the wildlife trade.

Like the earlier auctions — held in Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe over the past two weeks — the proceeds will go towards conservation efforts in the country. Nevertheless the auctions have been condemned by some conservation groups who say the sales will legitimize the market for elephant ivory and encourage poaching, especially in countries and regions where governance is poor. A study published last year showed that elephants are being killed at the highest rate since the international ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989.

Ivory ready for auction. Photo © IFAW

“By permitting legal trade in ivory, we are only encouraging the laundering of stocks by poachers, thereby increasing illegal hunting activities,” said Michael Wamithi, elephants program director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “Allowing this exorbitant amount of ivory to flood the market, considering the level of elephant poaching occurring today, is just plain irresponsible.”

Across the four countries, the auctions of around 101 tons of ivory from national stockpiles raised some $15 million for conservation.

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. The recent auctions were the result of this downlisting — but only contraband ivory and ivory from “problem” elephants were sold.

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