Some elephant aficianados are undoubtedly rejoicing: A major UN meeting on endangered species turned down requests from Tanzania and Zambia to downlist the conservation status of the tusked pachyderms and allow for the sale or future sale of stockpiled ivory.
In its proposal, Tanzania asked to sell about 200,000 pounds of the coveted commodity, while Zambia initially wanted to trade nearly 48,000 pounds. After Tanzania lost its bid, however, Zambia amended its request, seeking "a regulated trade in elephant parts excluding ivory—a first step toward future tusk sales,” reports the Associated Press. In denying these bids, the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) upholds a 21-year-old ban on the international trade of ivory.
Both countries cited trade in elephant parts as a solution to what they view as a major threat to the wrinkly giants: human conflict* with the animals, which some people—and specifically farmers—consider pests. They argued that the profits they would have made from the sale of ivory could have gone to better conserving their region's' elephants—nearly 137,000 of which roam wild in Tanzania (as of 2006), and about 27,000 in Zambia.
Opponents to the proposals worried that permitting ivory sales would only ensure an ongoing market where crime rings could hawk poached ivory, according to the BBC. Ivory fetches about $1,500 (per kilogram) on the black market, up from about $200 (per kilogram) in 2004, with a growing demand coming mainly from China, Thailand, and other parts of Asia, reports the AP.
Despite Tanzania's and Zambia's claims that elephants are holding their own in their countries, "conservationists said that poaching, especially in central Africa, now leads to the loss of as many as 60,000 elephants each year,” writes Michael Casey in the AP report. "Without intervention, the elephants could be nearly extinct by 2020.”
CITE's two-week meeting ends on the 25th.
*People living in Tanzania and Zambia aren’t the only ones hostile toward their grey-skinned counterparts; see Nick Brandt’s photo essay “Out of Africa” for an image of an elephant whose tusk wound suggests it was the recipient of a farmer’s aggression.