Battle over ivory sales flares up once more is set to to lift ban Nations set for fresh Elephant poaching on the rise again

A new bid to profit from elephants has split Africa, reports Nicholas Schoon

The scourge of elephant poaching has returned to Kenya. The government says 46 have been slaughtered in the first five months of this year, compared to 19 in the whole of 1996.

Why? Because, claims Kenya, a resumption in the African elephant ivory trade is on the agenda in Harare, Zimbabwe, to- morrow at the 10th conference of countries participating in Cites, the treaty regulating the international trade in endangered species. "The mere anticipation of reopening the trade is enough to fuel the poaching industry," says a Kenyan spokesman. In fact the chances are that any resumption will be rejected when the 136 nations vote at the end of the two-week meeting.

Three African states which want to be allowed to trade ivory with Japan - Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana - are unlikely to get the two-thirds majority needed, because of staunch opposition from conservation groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and key governments such as the US. But the issue cannot be suppressed. This will be the third attempt since the ban in international ivory trading came into force eight years ago, and no doubt there will be a fourth.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, roughly three-quarters of African elephants were wiped out, mainly due to ivory poaching. Some 70,000 were being killed each year. Attempts by Cites to reduce the slaughter by setting strictly limited ivory quotas failed, hence the 1989 ban.

To some extent it has worked - poaching has declined and the free market price appears to have fallen substantially. A group of six southern African nations, including South Africa, entered formal "reservations" against the ban, which meant they were legally exempt from it. They have, nonetheless, desisted from trading openly to avoid pariah status and because it was hard to find any country which would legally import their ivory.

These six countries have the biggest elephant populations and, by and large, the animals are doing well there. The three now pressing to resume ivory trading say their combined population has risen 60 per cent in 13 years to 155,000. They argue they need to control elephant numbers because they are increasingly coming into conflict with the rising human population.

It is a turf war. Crops have been encroaching on the tracts of land that wandering elephants need, so they trample and eat crops and not infrequently kill people; elephants are the principal cause of death by wildlife in Kenya. Several fatalities have occurred when farmers come back to their land after an evening's drinking and recklessly attempt to scare the beasts away.

The three countries want to start selling off the ivory stockpiles they have built up from culled elephants and those that have died naturally. All three propose to sell a strictly limited quantity only to Japan, where it is used in the centuries-old tradition of carving hanco seals. The WWF estimates there are more than 500 tonnes of ivory in African stockpiles, worth tens of millions of pounds. For small, impoverished countries these are huge sums.

If trade were to resume, some argue, it would give elephants value as a long-term, sustainable resource. Governments and local communities would wish to conserve elephants and reap the benefits of a careful culling programme. But conservationists and other countries say any legal trade is bound to start increasing demand and therefore to boost the illegal trade, which has never been erased.

An expert panel set up by Cites concluded there were problems with all three countries, but especially Zimbabwe. A parliamentary inquiry had found high-level corruption in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the panel did not believe Japan had adequate measures to control the trade at its end.

Kenya is leading the fight among African nations against the proposals. Its elephant population has begun to recover after five-sixths were lost in two decades. It points out that it has burnt nearly 30 tonnes of stockpiled ivory, and urges that a consortium of wealthy countries buys the stockpiles of other nations - and burns those too.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine