The post1989 scenario

An international campaign to ban the ivory trade gathered momentum in the wake of the rising tide of poaching in Africa. In October 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted for a complete ban on all trade in African ivory; the ban went into effect the following year (trade in Asian ivory had been banned since 1976). Following the total ban, the price of ivory crashed in the ensuing uncertainty over the future of the trade. The drop in price was as much as 90% in local African markets and about 50% in the international markets. Just prior to the ban, there were signs that the absolute numbers of elephants being killed across Africa may have begun to drop, although these would have still represented equal or higher proportions of the remaining numbers. However, there was a substantial decline in poaching for ivory after the ban, especially in countries that had lost very large numbers of elephants during the preban years. For instance, Kenya, with an estimated loss of more than 2,000 elephants through illegal killing during 1988-1989, registered only 111 such deaths during 1990-1991. Likewise, the illegal killing in Zambia's Luangwa Valley dropped from over 2,000 elephants to about 650 elephants during the corresponding period.

The influence of the ivory trade ban itself on the reduction in poaching across Africa is a disputed issue. One study by Holly Dublin, Tom Milliken, and Richard Barnes in 1995 suggested that, on the basis of available data from several countries, the trade ban might have contributed only partly to the observed decline in poaching. During the period preceding and accompanying the ban, a sharp enhancement in law enforcement budgets of many countries could have significantly influenced the trends in poaching. Once the enforcement budgets declined, there was again an increase in poaching at several places in spite of the trade ban.

Many observers, especially those strongly in favor of the trade ban, have questioned these conclusions. They point out that ivory poaching declined dramatically following the ban, and that any increase since 1992 has been only marginal or sporadic. Overall, the situation across Africa during the 1990s has been far better than during the previous decade.

The prices of raw ivory have recovered to a certain extent from the initial shock of the trade ban, but are still below the preban levels. A recent survey by Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles of local ivory markets in Africa found wide variation in the prices and the legality of the trade. The cheapest raw ivory was found in Zimbabwe (U.S.$8-$17 per kilogram), where legal supplies were easily available, followed by Mozambique and the Central African Republic (U.S.$15-$25 per kilogram), where much of the trade was of illegal ivory.

The most expensive ivory was clearly the illegal ivory in nonrange states such as Egypt and Djibouti (range U.S.$68-$137 per kilogram). The overall demand for ivory items was reduced in all countries surveyed with the exception of Nigeria, where it had increased compared to the preban demand.

Ivory was moving across countries in defiance of the ban, while it was also being smuggled out of the continent to East Asia, particularly China. Purchases by diplomats, European tourists, and military and U.N. personnel also suggested that ivory items were being taken out in personal or diplomatic baggage. There was also evidence that the commercial trade in "bush meat" that has ravaged wildlife populations in West and Central Africa also had an impact on elephant populations.

Attempts at CITES Conference of the Parties (COP) during 1992 and 1994 to partially open the international ivory trade failed. The ban was, however, partly relaxed in 1997 to permit one-time sale of 60 tonnes by Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Namibia to Japan under international supervision. No ivory sales were allowed at the subsequent COP in 2000, but again at the COP in 2002 the sale of 60 tonnes by Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa was authorized. CITES and its role in regulating the ivory trade are discussed in chapter 9.

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