African countries 'ignoring ban on ivory trade'

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The Independent Online

More than four tons of illegal ivory is on sale in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal, which have failed to regulate a trade that encourages poaching and threatens the survival of elephants, wildlife conservation groups say.

The three nations - which have nearly wiped out their elephant populations - have virtually ignored a world ban on the ivory trade and their flourishing illegal markets are "driving elephant poaching" in West and Central Africa, according to a report released yesterday by Traffic, an organisation which monitors trade in endangered species, and the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

"These studies show just a snapshot of the problem," said Tom Milliken of Traffic. "When we factor in all of the uncontrolled manufacturing, buying and selling over a year, these numbers climb to frightening dimensions."

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, banned the ivory trade in 1989. It lists elephants as an endangered species, but allows limited ivory trading in several countries that already had stocks. The CITES ban is applied in 164 nations, including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

But "all three governments are in breach of ivory market control requirements under international regulations," the report says. It says that "inadequate legislation and poor law enforcement" have allowed ivory sellers to flourish.

"Not only is there a lack of political will to implement CITES, allowing traders to act with immunity from prosecution, corruption is preventing effective controls on the ivory trade," said Susan Lieberman of the WWF.

Most of the illegal ivory comes from Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon - countries, the report says, which comprise "Africa's most troubled region for elephant conservation".

In Senegal, customs agents have "systematically barred" wildlife authorities who were trying to enforce the worldwide ban, the report says. Once across the border, tusks are carved into intricate ornaments and sold to tourists and businessmen from Europe, the United States, and Asian nations, particularly China and South Korea. At the Soumbedioune market in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, traders openly hawk jewellery, lamps and human and animal figures carved from ivory, displaying them under glass counters. "We do plenty of business. Everyone knows the pieces are beautiful," said one trader, Cheikh Mbacke, 43. Mr Mbacke and other traders claim that the ivory is from old stocks or from elephants that died naturally.

In 1980, there were 1.2 million African and Asian elephants. A decade later, that population had been halved. Elephant numbers have stabilised since, with 500,000 elephants in Africa and fewer than 50,000 in Asia.