U.N. Conservation Body Says Africans Split over Ivory Trade

African countries are divided over banning or controlling international ivory trading, but need to reach a common position if they are to ensure the survival of the continent's elephants, a U.N. panel said Wednesday.

GENEVA -- African countries are divided over banning or controlling international ivory trading, but need to reach a common position if they are to ensure the survival of the continent's elephants, a U.N. panel said Wednesday.

David Morgan, chief scientific officer at CITES, said African countries have filed three ivory proposals before the U.N.-sponsored conservation body's conference this June in The Hague, Netherlands, where 169 nations will debate new bans and quotas for trade in endangered species.

"This demonstrates the divisions that still exist between African countries on the way to go forward for the conservation of African elephants," Morgan told reporters in Geneva, where the body responsible for monitoring the 1973 U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has its headquarters. "As long as Africa is divided, the chances of success are not so high. We really need an African position on elephants."

Signatories of the convention debate new rules every three years. The meeting in June will debate nearly 40 new proposals for protecting wildlife species including pink coral, Latin American rosewood and cedar, Brazilian lobsters, and bobcats and leopards.

Trade in ivory, which comes from elephants in southern African herds, was banned by the body in 1989. Over the last decade, CITES has twice permitted one-off sales from the tusks of animals that died of natural causes or were subject to emergency culling in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

These countries and Tanzania are now asking for the right to resume controlled sales. Kenya and Mali, on the other hand, are seeking a 20-year ban on all trade in raw or worked ivory.

Conservationists argue that any ivory trading threatens elephant populations by creating commercial incentives for poachers. Advocates of the sales say that trading in ivory from well-managed herds can benefit local populations and help pay for conservation efforts.

But some African countries have been hugely successful in managing their elephant populations, leading to the new problem of how to manage growth that is spilling out of national parks.

On Wednesday, South Africa's environment minister proposed contraception and some culling to slow his country's elephant boom. While Marthinus van Schalkwyk stressed there would be no mass slaughter, the suggested measures highlighted South Africa's difficulty in maintaining 20,000 elephants without disrupting delicate biodiversity at its wildlife reserves.

Botswana, which has by far the biggest elephant population with an estimated 165,000, is the only country seeking a specific quota for ivory at the CITES meeting. It is asking that countries allow it to make a one-off sale of 40 metric tons (44.8 tons) and export a further eight metric tons (nine tons) of ivory per year.

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers said one of the most significant changes at this year's triennial conference is the increased number of proposals concerning fish and lumber.

Germany has asked that controls be set for two kinds of sharks, the spiny dogfish often used in British fish and chips shops and the porbeagle shark whose expensive meat fins have led to overfishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. It is also proposing on behalf of the 27-nation European Union that CITES limits trade in the European eel, whose stocks have dramatically declined in the North Atlantic's Sargasso Sea.

The United States has proposed limiting sales of pink coral, which has been fished out of tropical waters for more than 5,000 years for jewelry and decorative goods. The U.S. is also one of three countries seeking an absolute ban on trade in sawfishes, whose stock has declined over 90 percent in temperate coastal waters because of demand for their saws, teeth and fins, which are used as curios or in traditional medicines.

Germany also is proposing controls for the rosewood that grows in the swamps of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico and is used as tonewood for stringed musical instruments, and the cedar that was once a common tree throughout all of Central and South America.

Source: Associated Press

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