From email@example.com Fri Mar 10 11:02:07 2000
Kenya warns of new ivory offensive against elephants
Reuters, 9 March 2000
NAIROBI - Africa's elephants are again under attack and poaching will soar unless the world agrees to reimpose a total ban on the ivory trade, Kenya said yesterday.
Stepping up a diplomatic offensive ahead of a meeting on endangered species next month, officials presented almost two tonnes of ivory seized in Kenya last year and said it was clear evidence that poaching was on the rise.
They blamed the increase on the legal sales of ivory to Japan from three southern African nations last April, saying the auctions had fuelled demand, pushed up prices and led to a surge in illegal trading.
"We are already seeing the impact. What more evidence do you need? It is right here," said Nehemiah Rotich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service as he pointed to the neat piles of elephant tusks and ivory carvings laid out before him.
He then picked up several tusks to show the bullet holes left by poachers' guns.
In 1997, member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) relaxed their ban on the ivory trade to allow "one-off" sales by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.
Those sales were made last April with Japanese traders buying almost 60 tonnes and the three nations, now joined by South Africa, have requested permission for more auctions.
RIVALS LOBBYING HARD
Kenya and India, which both depend on healthy elephant herds for their tourism industries, want the total ban reimposed and both sides are lobbying hard ahead of next month's CITES meeting in Nairobi.
Rotich said allowing further legal auctions would send out the message that "it is OK to buy ivory" and encourage more and more poachers to hunt elephants again.
"Knowing what happens once big dollars are offered, it will be a bloody war," Rotich said.
While most of the resurgent illegal trade has been of ivory captured years ago and stockpiled underground, Rotich said at least 67 Kenyan elephants were killed for their tusks in 1999, up from an average of less than 15 in recent years.
The two tonnes of ivory seized in Kenya last year was four times more than the average of the previous six years.
Rotich said that, unless the total ivory ban is reimposed, wildlife parks would again be turned into killing fields with elephants shot dead and mutilated for their tusks.
"Once you have those sorts of scenes and you have bandits in the national parks, tourism will fly out of Kenya," Rotich said.
Environmentalists say about 600,000 African elephants - or around half the total population - were slaughtered during the 1980s and that only the total ban on the ivory trade, imposed in 1989, prevented the disappearance of the species.
The four southern African nations hoping to sell off part of their ivory stockpiles play down talk of a resurgence in poaching and say the revenues from last year's auctions and any future sales will be ploughed back into conservation efforts.
Other African nations with elephant populations are divided on the issue and Western governments, whose votes may tip the balance, are looking for solid evidence to back up the contradictory claims of both sides before deciding how to vote.