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Illegal Elephant Tusks Seized in Tanzania - 2002-01-17

Police in Tanzania say they have recovered more than 1,000 elephant tusks being shipped illegally. The seizure has sparked calls by environmentalists for tougher measures to stop the ivory trade.

The elephant tusks were about to be flown out of the country when they were seized at the airport of the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. It is not clear where the tusks came from or where they were going. Police said two Tanzanian nationals have been arrested in connection with the stolen ivory tusks.

Though trade in ivory has been banned since 1990, there are exceptions. A recent ruling by the organization that imposed the 1990 ban, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, granted several southern Africa countries the right to trade in registered ivory stockpiles - that is ivory already in possession of the authorities.

These countries, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, have healthy elephant populations, and they successfully argued that tusks collected from natural deaths should be sold so the proceeds can be used for conservation programs.

But groups opposed to the ivory trade say allowing any ivory sales at all undermines their efforts. Jason Bell is the southern Africa director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. He says allowing a limited legal trade, encourages illegal trading.

"We are extremely concerned because it seems to be that the message that is being sent out by allowing Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe to trade once off ivory stockpiles is that there is an open market for ivory again," he said.

Mr. Bell says no ivory trading should be permitted until African countries are able to effectively prevent poaching. "The reality in many African countries is that there are no effective enforcement measures in place to prevent poaching from occurring, and thus the illegal trade," he said.

Officials of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species are to meet in November to decide whether to relax the ban on ivory trade even further.