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The Other Ivory Sales

  • Thursday, January 1, 1998

A related CITES decision that has received little attention but could have a far-reaching impact allows a one-time, noncommercial sale of ivory by any African country that had registered its stockpiles by Sept. 18.

Sixteen of 37 elephant range states registered and can sell their ivory for noncommercial use. It is unclear at this point who will purchase the ivory, given the funds required to do so and the restrictions that prevent buyers from using the ivory for commercial purposes, such as carving and selling trinkets and jewelry. Japan has already said it will not be a purchaser.

Concerns have been raised that the sales, if they in fact occur, will increase demand and prices by reducing ivory supplies, and thus stimulate poaching. Moreover, many of the 16 registered countries, unlike Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, do not have adequate systems for monitoring the sales or protecting against illegal trade and poaching.

Some observers fear if registered countries do not find buyers and their expectations for the sales are unmet, new pressures for future trade will develop. This could occur amid growing perceptions by African countries that stockpile liquidation is not just a one-time CITES decision, but one that will be renewed at the next CITES meeting, eventually leading to a complete lifting of trade restrictions.

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