Oct 28, 2008
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Namibia ivory sale earns 1.1 mln dlrs from China, Japan

Oct 28, 2008

WINDHOEK, Oct 28, 2008 (AFP) - Namibia sold more than seven tonnes of ivory for 1.1 million dollars Tuesday, October 28th in the first legal auction of elephant tusks in nearly a decade -- exclusively for Chinese and Japanese buyers.

Nine tonnes of ivory have been put up for auction in Namibia, kicking off the first legal sales of elephant tusks in nearly a decade -- exclusively for Chinese and Japanese buyers - Photo : AFP

The sale kicked off two weeks of auctions across southern Africa that will put 108 tonnes of tusks on the block, in a one-off sale to the Asian powers.

Four African countries have been authorised by CITES, the international convention that regulates trade in endangered species, to hold the sales only to China and Japan.

The Asian giants are among the world's largest markets for ivory, which is used for families' traditional seals to stamp documents as well as handicrafts.

Namibia's deputy environment minister Leon Jooste said three buyers from Japan and three from China bought 7.2 tonnes for a total of 1.18 million dollars (940,370 euros) during the closed-door auction.

"We had nine tonnes on offer, but the remaining 1.8 tonnes will be utilised by local jewellers and carvers," he told reporters.

Willem Wijnstekers, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), monitored the sale and called the event a success.

"The auction was very succesful and we are confident the buyers will adhere to all CITES stipulatons," designed to prevent illegal ivory trade and to discourage poaching, he said.

The auctions, which are closed to the public and to media, are selling off tusks from government stocks -- mainly from elephants who died of natural causes or from culling of herds to prevent overpopulation.

But some conservationists fear that the sudden arrival of so much legal ivory in China and Japan could provide a way for poachers to slip their ill-gotten wares past the eyes of regulators.

Michael Wamithi, head of the elephant programme at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said both nations are among the top destinations for illegal ivory taken from poached elephants.

"Several multiple-tonne seizures have been made at Chinese ports in recent years. The lack of enforcement for the registration systems in both countries also provides a convenient loophole for illegal traders," he said.

The wildlife trade watchdog Traffic said it has confidence in the auctions, which after Namibia will move every three days through Botswana, Zimbabwe and finally South Africa.

"As far as we're concerned, it's a well-managed process," Traffic's national representative David Newton said in Johannesburg.

Despite concerns about China's enforcement efforts, Newton said Beijing had made real efforts to comply with international rules on ivory trade.

"They are taking this a lot more seriously," he said.

"We're always urging caution, and the ivory trade needs to be very strictly managed," he said. "For the one-off trade, we're confident that the monitoring mechanisms are in place."

CITES says it agreed to the sales only in African countries where elephant populations are judged to be healthy and growing. More than 312,000 elephants are living in the four nations.

Under CITES rules, profits from the sales must go towards elephant conservation projects, or towards programmes aimed at developing communities who live around elephant ranges.

The ivory can be exported only to China and Japan, which then must track it to prevent it from being resold overseas.

The international ivory trade was banned in 1989, but since 1997 CITES has authorised the four African countries to carry out occasional sales.

The last sale in 1999 earned five million dollars (four million euros). The four countries agreed not to hold a new sale for at least another nine years.

South Africa will hold the biggest sale, with 51 tonnes on the block, followed by Botswana with 44 tonnes and four tonnes in Zimbabwe.by Brigitte Weidlich

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