UW Today

April 1, 2010

International convention shoots down proposed Zambia, Tanzania ivory sales

News and Information

Petitions by Tanzania and Zambia for exceptions to a ban on ivory sales, strongly opposed by conservationists including Samuel Wasser of the UW (see our story here), have been defeated by an international convention.

The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meeting last week, defeated Tanzania’s proposed one-time sale of existing ivory stocks and a Zambian compromise to allow for future tusk sales.

Wasser, director of the UW Center for Conservation Biology, attended the meeting in Doha, Qatar, and said there is a clear link between one-time sales and the rise in poaching, according to the Associated Press. He said sales can send the wrong message to consumers that buying ivory is generally OK, and such sales make it hard to tell the difference between legal and illegal ivory products.

The countries said the ivory they want to sell was legally obtained, taken from animals that died naturally or problem animals culled from large herds.

The week before the meeting, Wasser was the lead author of a paper by 27 international conservationists in the journal Science that urged rejection of the proposed sales. They said Zambia and Tanzania are major sources and trafficking routes for Africa’s illegal ivory, demonstrated by tons of contraband ivory seized in 2002, 2006 and 2009. DNA sampling on the 2002 and 2006 seizures traced the majority of that ivory back to those two nations.

The price of ivory on the black market has risen from about $200 per kilogram in 2004 to more than $1,000 now.

The Africa elephant population has dropped sharply in the last 40 years, from about 1.3 million to fewer than 500,000 in the last 30 years, Wasser said. A global ban on ivory trade was enacted in 1989 and stopped the decline for a time, but poaching increased as enforcement efforts declined. Conservationists now estimate that poaching kills as many as 60,000 elephants each year, and at that rate they could be nearly extinct in another decade.