Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ivory Auctions Condemned

The Humane Society of the United States and its global arm, Humane Society International, condemn auctions of African elephant ivory by four southern African nations to buyers from China and Japan. The first of four auctions started October 28.

The auctions, part of an agreement reached in 2007 by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), began in Namibia October 28, to be followed by one in Botswana on Oct. 31, in Zimbabwe on Nov. 3 and in South Africa on Nov. 6.

Each country is permitted by CITES to auction a specified amount of stockpiled ivory totaling 107,769.94 kilograms, equivalent to the tusks of an estimated 14,642 African elephants. The stockpiled ivory originated from a variety of sources including seizures, natural mortality and government culls, or killing, of elephant herds. The 2007 CITES agreement also included a component that will stop further ivory trade from these four countries for at least nine years after the sale of this stockpile of ivory occurs.

African elephants are a threatened species with fewer than 600,000 remaining in the wild. CITES banned the international commercial trade in African elephant ivory in 1989—the trade in Asian elephant ivory had been banned earlier.

Between 1979 and 1989, the number of African elephants was decreased by half due to poaching to supply the then-legal international trade in ivory. CITES tried but failed to regulate the ivory trade during the decade preceding the ban. Ivory from poached elephants was funneled into the legal ivory trade, which provided cover for the illegal ivory trade. Some estimated that more than 90 percent of the ivory on sale in 1989 was from poached elephants.

Since then, CITES has allowed only one other such sale of ivory, which was in 1999, from three southern African countries to Japan. A surge in illegal ivory trade followed that sale, indicating renewed demand. Between 20,000 and 23,000 African elephants are poached every year to supply the illegal ivory trade.

"We are deeply concerned that the influx of ivory into Japan and China will only serve to stimulate demand," said Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., policy director for Humane Society International. "The sales will only fuel poaching of elephants to supply the bloody ivory trade, just like the last time. No one needs ivory trinkets," said Telecky. "We ask consumers to think about the elephant who died a horrible death to create an ivory bracelet."


Ivory objects in trade are most commonly made from the tusks of African or Asian elephants, but the term can also be used to describe the teeth of other animals including walrus, hippos and whales.

The auctions are scheduled to occur as follows:
o Namibia: Oct. 28 (9,209.68 kg)

o Botswana: Oct. 31 (43,682.91 kg)

o Zimbabwe: Nov. 3 (3,755.55 kg)

o South Africa: Nov. 6 (51,121.8 kg)

Asian elephants are an endangered species with fewer than 32,000 remaining in the wild. African elephants are threatened species with fewer than 600,000 remaining in the wild.
An investigation conducted by Care for the Wild and cosponsored by The HSUS and HSI reported that the United States is the world's second largest ivory marketplace. The investigators found thousands of ivory retail markets in 16 American cities that they visited in 2006 and 2007. More than 24,000 ivory objects were found for sale, almost half of them in New York City alone; other top cities included Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Most ivory objects for sale were jewelry or small carved figures, an estimated one-third of which were carved and imported illegally from China in the past 18 years, during which the international trade in elephant ivory was banned by CITES. The objects were often mislabeled as "antiques" or "mammoth ivory." Sale of such ivory, if genuine, is allowed by U.S. law. This confirms the findings of a 2002 HSUS report which examined the U.S. ivory trade and demonstrated that ivory marketers use false labeling to take advantage of loopholes in U.S. laws and regulations. Ivory is sold in the United States at flea markets, on the Internet, at craft exhibits and at stores.

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