Conservationists Urge Keeping Ban on Ivory

A group of elephant conservationists meeting in Phnom Penh urged the world Thursday to main­tain a ban on the ivory that has held since 1989, when the world’s remaining 500,000 elephants were given the highest le­v­el of protection available under global conservation treaties.

The ban may be lifted later this year to allow African countries like Botswana to sell stockpiled ivory to markets in Asia, including the major markets of Japan and Tai­wan, where the ivory is fa­shioned into chopsticks, musical in­stru­ments and Japanese name seals.

“It’s our fear that the ban will be lifted,” said Vivek Menon, ex­ecutive director of the Wildlife Trust of India and one of the world’s foremost experts on the ivory trade.

Some conservationists argue that the ban only reduces the  ivory available in the mar­ketplace and makes it more at­tractive for poachers to hunt Asian elephants, threatening the 35,000 to 45,000 animals believed to still exist in the wild. Another 13,000 work as domesticated la­bor­ers.

Cambodia is home to just 400 Asian elephants, conservationists say, most of them tuskless.

But Menon said the resumption of the ivory trade would likely lead to bigger demand for ivory and poaching would in­crease anyway.

The Convention on the Inter­national Trade in Endangered Spe­­cies outlawed the ivory trade in 1989. The organization plans to meet in Santiago, Chile, later this year and may lift the ban to ap­pease three African countries who  argue they should be al­lowed to har­vest a limited amount of ivory.

The ivory trade has depleted the number of males with tusks, called “tuskers.” Not all males car­ry tusks. There are 25,000 wild elephants in India, but only 1,500 males with tusks, for example.

The resolution was passed on the final day of a four-day conference of the Asian Elephant Specialist group of the Inter­national Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

The meeting, a gathering of elephant biologists and specialists from across Asia, is the first of its kind in five years. The group discussed the problems of elephant conservation, poaching and the ivory trade, dwindling elephant habitat and the conflicts that arise across Asia between farmers and roaming elephant populations.


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