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1st auction of ivory in decade held in Namibia
Stockpiled ivory is seen in an auction room in Windhoek, Namibia, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008. Namibia sold 7,226 kilograms of ivory tusks for the first time in nearly 10 years as the four one-off auctions of ivory stockpiles to Chinese and Japanese buyers kicked off in southern Africa. - photo by Associated Press
    WINDHOEK, Namibia — The first ivory auction in a decade sold over 7 tons of tusks to Chinese and Japanese bidders Tuesday, raising more than $1 million for elephant conservation.
    The sale took place under a special exemption to the international ban on trade in ivory.
    Last year the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ruled that Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe could make a one-time sale of 108 tons of government ivory stocks.
    Some environmentalists have condemned the sales, fearing it will encourage smuggling and poaching.
    Tuesday’s auction, held behind closed doors in the capital, was monitored by Willem Wijnstekers, CITES Secretary General. In all, 7.2 tons of ivory were sold, fetching a total of $1.3 million at an average price of $164 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).
    Proceeds will go to the Game Product Trust Fund created in 1999 to promote conservation in communities where elephants range. Most of Namibia’s elephants are found outside protected areas and have to compete for land and resources with communities, which often leads to conflict between people and the animals.
    ‘‘Without a way of benefiting from elephants, elephants can only be seen as a liability or loss to rural communities, who lose significant subsistence crops and even human lives,’’ Leon Jooste, deputy minister of environment and tourism, told reporters.
    The two Chinese and two Japanese buyers were not named.
    Most of the tusks came from elephants who died of natural causes. Southern Africa is home to about 300,000 elephants — half of all the giant creatures on the continent.
    Namibia had expected to sell over 9 tons of ivory and the remaining tusks will be distributed to communities involved in making traditional jewelry.
    Over 44 tons will be sold in Botswana on Friday, while auctions next month will see 51 tons being offered in South Africa and almost 4 tons offered in Zimbabwe.
    No new sales from the four southern African countries will be allowed for the next nine years.
    Ivory trade was banned globally in 1989, but reviving elephant populations allowed African countries to make a one-time sale a decade later to Japan, the only country which had previously won the right to import.
    In July, CITES said China should also be allowed to bid for ivory as it had dramatically improved its enforcement of ivory trade rules. The organization said it will monitor Chinese and Japanese domestic trade controls to ensure traders do not use this opportunity to sell ivory of illegal origin.
    The auctions have prompted widespread protests by animal rights activists, leading online auction giant eBay Inc. to say it would ban ivory sales.
    ‘‘The elephant ivory trade is responsible for the slaughter of at least 20,000 elephants a year,’’ Christina Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.
    ‘‘Relaxing the current international ivory trade ban, such as these stockpile sales, will signal to poachers that it is open season on elephants and provide them means to launder their illegal ivory stocks,’’ she said.
    But CITES’ Wijnstekers disputed this.
    ‘‘There is no proven scientific explanation that ivory sales lead to poaching,’’ he told The Associated Press.

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