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Will the UN reverse its ivory ban?

Delegates overseeing a worldwide endangered species treaty have adopted a plan to allow ivory to be legally traded on the global market.

In this 2011 photo, a sixteen-day-old elephant enjoys the sun at an elephant breeding center in southern Nepal.

Niranjan Shrestha/AP

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Delegates overseeing a 175-nation endangered species treaty adopted measures Friday intended to curb smuggling of elephant ivory and rhino horn, including a new plan to eventually allow ivory to be legally traded again in global markets.

The plan for allowing ivory to be traded legally for the first time in more than two decades will be fine-tuned and presented again in October, then considered for final approval next March in Bangkok. It was among the most hotly debated items at a weeklong meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, that ended Friday.

Some 300 delegates in Geneva agreed by consensus to a series of measures and sanctions on trade in endangered species. The ivory plan envisions a resumption in trading only from existing stocks gathered from elephants that have died as a result of natural causes.

A global ban on ivory trading took effect in 1989 to curb elephant poaching in Africa, but in the past decade the problem grew again with rising Asian demand for ivory chopsticks, statues and jewelry.

The long-running global debate over elephants has focused on the benefits of raising revenue from legal ivory sales that could be used to pay for conservation measures and ways of protecting local communities that live in close proximity to large and sometimes dangerous animals.

Proponents also have argued that legalizing the trade could dampen prices and, therefore, demand for ivory on the black market, but some conservation groups have said they remain skeptical that it will work and that in fact sales could only increase poaching. No culling or poaching would be authorized under the plan.

Much of the focus was on how to strengthen enforcement while also dampening consumer demand. Delegates agreed that effected nations must do more to control their markets and combat international ivory smuggling.

"You may say that there has been a sort of polarization here (over ivory) — will you ban it totally, or will you allow something and if you allow something, you may also encourage smuggling," said Oystein Storkersen, the head of nature management in Norway who chairs one of CITES' main committees, told reporters. "As long as there is strong demand in the consumer countries, we probably will see people willing to risk going for ivory in the source countries."


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