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African Countries At Odds Over Ivory Stockpiles - 2002-08-19

Tanzania and Kenya are expected to be at loggerheads next month when discussions begin on easing controls on the trade of African elephant ivory. Tanzania supports a proposal by members of the Southern Africa Development Community or SADC to ease restrictions so it can sell its stockpiles of ivory. Kenya is opposed and wants commercial dealing in ivory banned by international treaties. A meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora –also known as CITES -- is scheduled for Kenya next month.

The CITES secretariat says it has received proposals from African countries seeking permission to dispose of their ivory stockpiles while others like Kenya are against the move. The Convention's secretary-general Willem Wijnstekers (Vinj-nstekers) says a series of meetings have been scheduled to allow African countries reach consensus on the issue. Mr. Wijnstekersm says the first meeting will be held in Nairobi next month. The final meeting is scheduled for Santiago in November.

Mr. Wijnstekers says Tanzania has 80 tons of ivory on hand. He says while Tanzania has expressed support for the SADC member proposal, it has not yet made a formal request, as have Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, to sell their stocks.

Mr. Wijnstekers says that does not mean that the country won't be joining the group pressing for the easing of ivory trade controls.

He says, "They have not proposed to sell that but of course there can be a situation in which Tanzanian government says we want to use that ivory and use the money for elephant conservation and we will also propose the sell off our stock. But it's a policy decision, as I said Kenya has decided that tourism is all they want and not ivory trade which is good for them and may be not so good for others."

Tanzania and Kenya will have until November to lobby other African states to support their stand. That's when the signatories to CITES will meet in Santiago, Chile.

CITES secretary-general Willem Wijnstekers says the number of countries supporting the easing of controls on ivory trade has increased from three to five in southern Africa. However, he explains that the voting in Santiago may be different.

He says, "There is this Kenyan proposal that goes exactly in the different direction, that doesn't let it happen this time or in the near future. The question is what number of countries are going to support the Kenyan position and what number of countries are going to support the Southern Africa position. That is a total mystery for most people which makes it probably an exciting subject to discuss but that is also why we have organized these series of meetings to prepare the conference so that nobody can say that the decisions have been taken in haste without due consideration."

In 1997, three SADC member states, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, managed to get permission to sell over 50 tons of ivory.

This year five SADC countries are asking for approval to sell over 80 tons of ivory. The five countries also want permission for an annual quota of between two and five tons.

Any change in ivory policy needs a two thirds vote of the 158 members of CITES.

Also, Tanzania and Kenya have long been at odds over the issue of sport hunting along their common border. Tanzania offers licenses for sport hunting. But Kenya is concerned about effects of sport hunting of animals, such as the elephant, whose numbers are fast decreasing in the region. Poaching is also blamed for may elephant deaths.