Washington, Oct 29 : The UN has allowed China and Japan to buy 108 tons of ivory in African auctions, which conservationists fear will open the floodgates to illegal poachers to sell ivory on the black market.
According to a report in The Independent, this is the first legal auction of ivory in more than a decade, which will be held despite warnings from scientists and conservation groups that the sale will lead to an increase in the illegal poaching of elephants.
The four southern African nations that have been given special permission by the UN to sell 108 tons of ivory obtained from elephants that died of natural causes or were killed in population management programmes, are, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Many conservationists have said that the sale will open the floodgates to illegal poachers who kill up to 20,000 elephants each year to sell ivory on the black market.
Bidding for nine tons of ivory held by Namibia has already begun in a closed auction. Three further auctions are planned for South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe over the next four weeks.
Following a decision by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) last year, only China and Japan are allowed to buy the tusks, as they were given the buyer status.
Cites gave the four countries permission to sell their ivory hoards because elephant populations in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe are stable or increasing.
At the first auction, China spent 674,530 dollars on 3,840kg of low-quality ivory and Japan spent 511,730 dollars on 3,386kg of smaller pieces.
Though the money made from the sales will be ploughed back into conservation programmes, critics fear that the arrival of so much legal ivory in Japan and China will allow poachers to pass illegal ivory off as legally obtained.
They also fear that poachers in less stable countries such as Chad and in the Congo Basin will redouble their efforts to hunt elephants.
Michael Wamithi, a former director of Kenya Wildlife Service who now works at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, has attacked Cites' decision to go ahead with the auction.
"Allowing this exorbitant amount of ivory to flood the market, considering the level of elephant poaching occurring today, is just plain irresponsible," he said.
"By permitting legal trade in ivory, we are only encouraging the laundering of illicit ivory, thereby increasing illegal hunting activities. The situation is very clear; more ivory in the marketplace equals many more dead elephants and rangers," he added.