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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

November 2002   —   CITES Meetings This Month

The current meeting of CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) is being held from November 3–15 in Santiago Chile.

Fifty–four proposals will be considered during the meetings including one for the resumption of the trade in elephant ivory.

In the late 1980’s Africa’s wild elephants were heading for extinction due to several factors, not the least of which was the soaring number of elephants being poached for their precious tusks in order to supply the demand for ivory on the illegal market. The numbers of elephants in most African countries were declining at an alarming rate, with some populations falling by as much as 95%.

In 1989, the disastrous situation was finally addressed by many of the world’s nations through CITES, and a total ban on the international trade in elephant ivory was passed. Throughout the 1990’s, elephant numbers slowly began recovering in certain countries in response to the ban. By the mid–late 90’s, several countries were pressing CITES to be allowed to resume the trade as they claimed elephant numbers had recovered adequately.

Although these claims were not justified, in 1997, CITES decided to allow several African countries a one–time trade, or sale, of their stockpiled ivory. This decision was opposed by conservationists worldwide, concerned that such a move would threaten elephants once again, seriously undermining the efforts being made to help the species recover.

These concerns were well–founded as in the late 90’s, poaching was again increasing, and continues to be ever increasing. Moreover, the "sale" of the stockpiled ivory had originally been intended as a way to help finance elephant conservation in the affected regions. The truth was, the revenues from the sale of the ivory were never directed into conservation programs. Furthermore, an active, illegal ivory market has once again developed, and thrives in several African and Asian countries.

At the current CITES meetings in Santiago, several of these nations are proposing a resumption in the trade of elephant ivory. This would dramatically exacerbate the levels of poaching, and subsequently lead once more to disaster for the beleaguered, noble elephant.

Let us hope the proposal is soundly defeated.

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