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Kenya Welcomes Tanzania Ivory Ban

Kenyan Wildlife wardens keep a watch on confiscated elephant tusks at the Kenyan wildlife offices in Nairobi, Nov. 30, 2009
Kenyan Wildlife wardens keep a watch on confiscated elephant tusks at the Kenyan wildlife offices in Nairobi, Nov. 30, 2009

Kenya has welcomed the decision by The Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species to prevent neighboring Tanzania from selling part of its ivory stockpile. The Kenyan government says putting ivory back on the market would stimulate illegal poaching in the region.

Speaking to VOA, Kenya Wildlife Spokesman Paul Udoto said the decision would help to ensure the continuation of one of Africa's most important conservation efforts.

"It is a victory for the African elephant," Udoto said. "It is also an opportunity for Kenya and like-minded partners to engage the other side of the argument."

Kenya was one of more than 20 countries from East and Central Africa that rallied against a proposal from Tanzania and Zambia to remove the African elephant from a list of endangered species.

The proposed change would have allowed the two countries to make a one-time sale of more than 100 tons of ivory; the profits of which they said would be used to fund further conservation projects.

Elephants can move freely across the border between Kenya and Tanzania at three main points where wildlife reserves straddle both countries. Udoto argues that no decision regarding animal welfare in those regions should be made without consultation between the two nations.

"They are shared populations," Udoto said. "The elephants have no idea about the passports and the visas to cross over, and it was upon the two countries to have discussed this issue before being presented to Doha. It is unfortunate that Tanzania moved ahead and took this to Doha without agreeing with us."

Experts say an insatiable demand for ivory from the Far East means many African countries are facing serious problems in controlling illegal poaching.

Speaking to VOA from the CITES summit in Doha, Save the Elephants Founder Ian Douglas-Hamilton said authorities must act to ensure all options stay closed to ivory buyers.

"If the price of ivory is propelled upwards due to an increase in demand from the Far East, the poaching will definitely escalate and I think Kenya's really fearful that one-off sales would stimulate the market and increase the demand and that would definitely feed back down to increase the ivory poaching," Douglas-Hamilton said.

Douglas-Hamilton says the 1989 worldwide ban on ivory trade initially led to an increase in most significant elephant populations, a trend that continued until a few years ago.

"Now what worries us is that we have seen a sudden escalation in poaching levels," Douglas-Hamilton said. "Everyone acknowledges that throughout the CITES program and that is why were particularly worried that we could see a return to the bad old days."

The Kenyan government has called for Tanzania and other East African states to reconvene to reaffirm the provisions that were made during the last CITES conference in 2007, when a nine-year moratorium on ivory trade was agreed to.

Douglas-Hamilton says the most important aspect of this year's decision is that more time will be made for monitoring systems to be but in place, and that elephants will be granted a rest period so that numbers can increase again.