Ivory trade sustains elephant poaching

Johannesburg | Wednesday

THE International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) has raised concerns about the safety of Africa’s elephant population, following last week’s discovery of an ivory stash of 1 255 tusks in Dar es Salaam.

Ifaw said in a statement that the find was a wake-up call to nations that believed the long-term stability of certain elephant populations was assured.

“The discovery of these 1 255 tusks represents the death of hundreds of elephants - it should serve to shake many nations out of their complacent belief that Africa’s elephants will ever be safe from indiscriminate slaughter,” said Jason Bell, Ifaw’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

“As long as a market for ivory exists it will sustain poaching and illegal trade,” he said.

Two Tanzanian men were arrested late last week following the seizure of the tusks from two homes in a suburb of Dar es Salaam.

Police said they were not aware of the country or countries of origin of the tusks.

Hunting elephant is legal only under certain conditions in Tanzania, but is banned outright in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda, countries that have taken great steps to protect their elephant populations from poachers.

“This incident once again supports our evidence that it is very difficult to properly monitor and control the cross-border trade in ivory and, more importantly, questions the ability of elephant range states to stop poaching of their elephant herds,” said Bell.

Ifaw said it opposes any relaxation of ivory trade laws, including the likelihood that countries such as South Africa, and its neighbours Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, will vote for a relaxation on trade in ivory and other elephant products at the Convention on the International in Endangered Species (Cites) in November 2002.

The organisation said that South Africa, with its mostly well-guarded elephant population, was expected to vote for a down-listing of elephants from Cites Appendix I to Appendix II, which would allow the country to sell its ivory stockpiles, as well as allowing for the trade in live animals, hides and leather goods and the non-commercial trade of sporting trophies.

“Despite trade in ivory being illegal since 1990, the world continues to see the seizure of illegal hauls. The black market demand for ivory is insatiable, and opening up a legal trade will only provide a cover and a market for illegal ivory products and encourage the poaching of elephants,” said Bell.

“Even if South Africa was to act completely honestly when trading its ivory, there is no certainty that the range states of the African elephant have either the will or the capacity to properly control poaching,” he added.

The organisation has called on Cites members to veto any call for the down-listing of elephants at this year’s meeting and has appealed to Southern African elephant range states to reconsider their position.

“In particular, South Africa - with its proud conservation record -should use its status as an influential member of the African family to encourage others to do all possible to keep elephants safe,” said Bell.

“It is clear that the African elephant continues to live under threat and anything we can do to stymie the creation of a market for ivory - illegal or legal - should be done.” - Sapa

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