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Plan to Control Ivory Sales is not Working

October 9, 1989

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ A meeting on wildlife trade opened Monday with the admission that a plan to control ivory sales is not working and African elephant populations are suffering an alarming decline.

Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands told 800 delegates and observers at a 10-day session of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that supporters of the ivory quota system ″must admit that it has failed to control the illegal ivory trade.″

Bernhard, president of the World Wide Fund for Nature, warned delegates of alarming census reports. ″You must give benefit of the doubt to the survival of the species,″ he said.

The convention issued an infractions report detailing how African countries, especially Zaire and Gabon, had flouted non-ivory wildlife trade restrictions.

The report also singled out Argentina, Spain, Japan and Thailand, among others, for failing to comply with convention regulations on other species. It mentioned only the most flagrant abuses, it said, indicating widespread problems in policing international trade.

A separate report dealt with ivory, the heart of the wildlife trade issue.

Delegates from 103 convention nations must decide whether to leave elephants under their present designation as threatened species or list them as an endangered species, which would force a ban on ivory trade.

Ivory fetches more than $150 a pound on world markets.

The United States, Canada and the 12-nation European Economic Community halted imports in June.

Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana argue that careful management has increased their elephant herds and entitles them to sell tusks to finance their game reserves. Zimbabwe says it earns $9 million a year by selling ivory from herds estimated at 52,000.

But East African states say herds have been reduced continent-wide from 1.3 million in a decade to just more than 600,000 and can only be protected by a ban that applies to the entire continent.

In July, Kenya burned 2,500 poached ivory tusks worth $3 million to draw attention to the slaughter of elephants across the continent. Kenya’s population had declined from 65,000 in the 1970s to about 17,000 today.

Environmentalists say poachers kill at least 70,000 elephants a year and that poorer nations such as Kenya and do not have the resources to stop well- armed poachers, many of whom come from neighboring countries.

Connie Harriman, a U.S. assistant secretary of the interior and head of the American delegation, said a partial ban would ″create a loophole which would allow continued illegal trade. We have no flexibility.″

Other delegates agreed, suggesting that Eastern Africa might muster the required two-thirds majority to change the elephants’ status to endangered.

But others rallied around Southern Africa. ″We must respect the Africans’ wishes,″ said Kiyohiko Arafune of the Japanese delegation, which favors limited ivory trade.

Convention Secretary-General Eugene Lapointe suggested a split listing that would ban trade where elephant populations are at risk but allow quotas for South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The World Wide Fund for Nature and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature backed a ban but left room for maneuver.

″We would support a split listing with a moratorium to gain time,″ said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, an enforcement group associated with the conservation groups. ″The alternative is to back Southern Africa to the wall, so they file reservations and open the door to abuse.″

The convention’s rulings are non-legally binding agreements that rely on international pressure for enforcement. Convention members are allowed to file a so-called reservation to bypass guidelines for an individual species.

The position of the conservation groups was met by anger from a range of other environmentalist groups, mostly from the United States, that have lobbied for an immediate ban.

″We should stand together on what is necessary and let governments do the compromising,″ said Sue Lieberman of the Humane Society of the United States. ″It’s incredible when official U.S. and British positions are stronger than some environmentalists’.″

Greenpeace spokesman Andrew Davis said: ″The compromise approach has meant the death of hundreds of thousands of African elephants. ″Only a total ban with a really concerted effort to shut down the markets can save the elephants.″

Simon Lyster, head of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s 19-person delegation, said: ″Our objective is a total ban but we are not wedded to the mechanism.″

He blamed individual nations for a gross failure to enforce regulation and said the convention lacked the resources to fulfill its mandate. Lyster also said that even a total ban would not be enough.

″We must make the wearing of ivory, using of ivory, as socially unacceptable as wearing a cheetah-skin coat,″ he said.

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