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Ivory auction to 'encourage elephant poaching -

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Ivory auction to 'encourage elephant poaching'

The World Today - Wednesday, 29 October , 2008 12:46:00

ELEANOR HALL: The trade in ivory has been banned for decades, but in southern Africa a one-off
auction of ivory stockpiles is now taking place.

More than 100 tonnes of elephant tusks are being sold to Chinese and Japanese buyers.

But conservation groups are warning that the auction will only encourage elephant poaching.

This report from our Africa correspondent, Andrew Geoghegan.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Under a veil of secrecy the government of Namibia opened the ivory sale with the
auction of seven tonnes of elephant tusks.

JOHN SELLAR: The same level of security taking place here that you might find for example, if
you're having an auction of diamonds, or any other valuable product.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: John Sellar is the enforcement officer at the Convention of International Trade
in Endangered Species, CITES, which gave the go ahead for the ivory sale.

JOHN SELLAR: What is taking place is a sale that involves goods that are probably going to be worth
many millions of dollars.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: But, the authorities would also have been concerned about protests from animal
welfare groups, which are dismayed by the sale.

MICHAEL WAMITHI: The sales are going to expose elephants to more poaching in Africa.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Michael Wamithi is with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

MICHAEL WAMITHI: So we are afraid that this sale will send a message to the poachers that the ivory
trade internationally is now opening up.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Namibia is one of four southern African countries that have been permitted to
sell stockpiles of ivory.

Over the next week Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe will hold auctions.

In total, 108 tonnes of elephant tusks will be sold, that accounts for more than 10,000 dead
elephants.

John Sellar, who's policing the sale, says only legally obtained ivory is being auctioned.

JOHN SELLAR: Either they were from problem animal control or in the majority of cases, they came
from natural mortality, from elephants that simply had reached the end of their natural life, had
died and their tusks had been recovered.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: What do you say to the claims of some conservation groups, that this is sending a
message to poachers that the ivory trade is open for business?

JOHN SELLAR: There is no opportunity for poached ivory to get into this system. This is a closed
loop system, if you like. No poached ivory can enter this system in the Africa end.

We've looked at the stock, we have indicated to those countries what can be sold and what cannot be
sold.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The buyers are exclusively from China and Japan where demand is strongest.
Authorities are convinced that those countries can adequately police the ivory trade.

But Michael Wamithi is not convinced.

MICHAEL WAMITHI: We have seen evidence of lack of sufficient control. These kind of authorities
from CITES to sell ivory, may provide an incentive for some of these countries to say that they
need cull.

So what will happen is that more elephants will be killed now to fill that demand that you have
been created.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: The auctions are expected to raise about $300-million which will be put into
elephant conservation and community development programs.

This is Andrew Geoghegan reporting for The World Today.