CITES okays China to buy ivory stocks

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2008:
GENEVA–The Con-vention on International Trade in Endangered
Species on July 15, 2008 authorized China to buy 119 metric tons of
elephant ivory from the official government stores kept by Botswana,
Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
The stockpiles include ivory from elephants culled in the name
of population control or to protect crops and human life, as well as
ivory taken from poachers and illegal traffickers.
“Poaching has already reached a level surpassing that before the
1989 ban on the ivory trade,” said former Kenya Wildlife Service
director Michael Wamithi, now heading the Inter-national Fund for
Animal Welfare elephant program.
“A little legal ivory is sufficient to launder a lot of illicit
ivory,” warned the French conservation group Robin des Bois, “and
there is no doubt the price of ivory will skyrocket after China’s
entry into the ivory stock exchange,” in competition with Japan,
the only other approved bidder.

“South Africa and their neighbours applaud,” Rob-in des Bois
continued, “but 27 other African states fear an upsurge of poaching.
Moreover the Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe will exchange more
ivory with China for munitions, as he has already done.”
Robin des Bois’ cynicism soon appeared warranted. Reported
Zimbab-we Conservation Task Force chair Johnny Rodrig-ues on August
13, 2008, “According to sources, the Department of National Parks
& Wildlife Manage-ment has embarked on an elephant population
management program. Around 1,800 elephants have already been shot in
Hwange National Park alone. They plan on shooting another 1,000.
National Parks allegedly contracted South African hunters to shoot
the elephants. Elephants with big tusks are being especially
targeted,” but the tusks were not sent to the official Zimbabwean
government ivory stockpile, Rodrigues’ sources told him.
“Not only are elephant bulls being shot,” Rodrigues said,
“but cows as well, leaving orphaned calves behind. We have been
informed that they intend to capture the orphans to be domesticated
for elephant rides.
“National Parks have apparently issued permits to clients to
shoot other animals for rations,” Rodrigues added, “not only in
Hwange, but in other national parks. In addition to elephants, the
ration animals include buffalo, lion, kudu and impala.”
The CITES decision to allow China to buy ivory came just
after the British-based Environmental Investigation Agency claimed to
have obtained “a confidential, unpublished Chinese government
document” admitting that “110 metric tons of ivory–equivalent to the
tusks of 11,000 elephants–has gone missing from the Chinese
government-controlled ivory stockpiles.”
Animal Rights Africa cofounder Michele Pickover estimated the
actual Chinese loss at 121 metric tons over 10 years. “Vast amounts
of illegal ivory are on sale [in China],” Pickover said, “despite
the existence of a registration system which appears to be widely
abused and manipulated. The Chinese government has legalised ivory
trade by dozens of companies thought to be implicated in illicit
trade. Registered traders buy ivory from and sell to illegal
dealers, as well as illegally exporting ivory.”
Added Pickover, “Animal Rights Africa notes with disquiet
that the CITES Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program is
not sensitive enough to immediately detect and report on poaching
that takes place as a result of this sale. Thus, the effect of this
export on elephant poaching will not be officially known for years.
“South Africa should not be considered by CITES as a
legitimate trading partner either,” Pickover alleged. “South Africa
has been given permission by CITES to sell ivory on condition that
the proceeds of the trade are used exclusively for elephant
conservation and community conservation and development programs
within or adjacent to the elephant range. This has not happened in
the past and is not likely to happen now.”
South African environment minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk
earlier in 2008 formally ended a 13-year moratorium on elephant
culls. “Observers expect this to be based on a plan drawn up in 2000
that recommended culling between 400 and 1,000 elephants a year for
at least five years,” wrote Fiona Mac-leod of the Johannesburg Mail
& Guardian.
“We can definitely expect culling to take place this winter,”
Pickover told Mackeod. “To date,” Pickover added, “neither the
minister nor any of the pro-culling lobby has been able to produce
one shred of evidence to show that there is an ethically or
ecologically defensible reason to kill even one elephant in South
John Grobler of the Windhoek Namibian on July 31 dislcosed
that Namibian director of wildlife management Ben Beytell had
allegedly issued permits “to six conservancies in the Kunene region
for shooting three elephant bulls.” These may be the last three
breeding-age desert elephant bulls in the nation, Elephant-Human
Relations Aid director Johannes Haasbroek told Grobler.
“The conservancies, controlled by the local communities,
typically sell their rights to professional hunting companies,
earning on average about sixty thousand Namibian dollars per
elephant,” Grobler wrote. “The professional hunting firms sell the
permits to wealthy hunters willing to pay up to $60,000 U.S. to bag
such a rare trophy.
“Desert elephants, so called because of their smaller
stature and physical adaptation to their arid environment, range in
the dry riverbeds of southern Kunene,” Grobler said, “where they
feed primarily on Ana tree pods. Regarded as a keystone species in
the local eco-system, they are also a key attraction in Namibia’s
tourism industry,” which is currently about 20 times the size of the
Namibian hunting industry.
The Namibian trophy hunting industry has grown at about 12%
per year for the past 10 years, Namibian Professional Hunters
Association president Diethelm Metzger recently told Wezi Tjaronda of
the Windhoek New Era. The growth has paralleled the decline of
trophy hunting in Zimbabwe during a decade of heavy poaching and
“land invasions” by Mugabe supporters.

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