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Elephants face killing fields again

Elephants in Asia and Africa are once again falling prey to illegal hunting due to the relaxation of a 10-year ban on ivory trading, conservationists say.  

January 25, 2000
Web posted at: 10:34 a.m. EST (1534 GMT)

By Margot Higgins

The 10th anniversary of an international ban on ivory trading is no cause for celebration when elephant poaching is on the rise, conservationists say.

Conservationists maintain that elephants across Asia and Africa are once again falling prey to illegal hunting due to the relaxation of the ban, which began in January 1990. To add insult to injury, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were granted one-time limited sales permits for elephant products in 1997.

Animal world


Allan Thornton, chairman of Britain's Environmental Investigation Agency, called this decision "the biggest conservation blunder of the 1990s." The agency is demanding that all elephant populations be given back their most protected status under Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species. The convention, which includes 146 participating countries, will next meet in April in Nairobi, Kenya.

In April 1999, Japanese ivory traders bought nearly 60 tons of ivory from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. "The sale of ivory to Japan was supposed to be preceded by implementation of international safeguards in the form of a monitoring system to detect increased poaching," said Thornton. "The system was not established and now elephants are paying the price."

The agency registered its own outrage and frustration in a recent press release: "It is EIA's view that a legal ivory trade provides a cover for the black market, a view confirmed by the upsurge in both elephant poaching and illicit ivory seizures."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare also came out strongly against the ivory sale. "Any way they spin it, this is bad news for elephants," the group said in a public statement. "This sale [was] based on assurances from CITES and national authorities that the capacity exists in Africa today to enforce and monitor elephant poaching. Yet now we are being told that this so-called 'non-commercial' sale will provide desperately needed funds to increase enforcement. It doesn't take a brain the size of an elephant's to figure out that something is fundamentally wrong here."
From 1979 to 1989, poaching fueled by ivory sales decimated half of Africa's elephant population.  

From 1979 to 1989, elephant poaching fueled by ivory sales cut Africa's elephant population in half.

Conservationists say herds have not fully recovered from the great massacre and many small populations could be wiped out completely if poaching continues.

Environmental Investigation Agency spokeswoman Debbie Bell said the 1989 CITES ban caused ivory prices and elephant poaching to drop "virtually overnight." Major traders closed their markets to ivory imports and demand plummeted.

Tanzania had been losing as many as 100,000 elephants a year from poaching. After the ban, the losses dropped to fewer than 100 per year.

Poaching has devastating effects on the structure of elephant populations. Hunters often seek the oldest elephants to obtain the largest tusks, wiping out the mature members of the population. The pattern has profound implications on the reproductive capacity in elephant herds.

Male elephants generally do not mate until they are about 30 years old. With the slaughter of so many mature males, the rate of reproduction is quite low. Poaching has also been blamed for disrupting the stability of herds, which in turn impacts the ability of elephants to breed.

Copyright 2000, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Environmental Investigation Agency
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