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Parties at Cites reach compromise on ivory stockpiles

Conservation groups say this exposes elephants to the menace of poaching for illegal ivory trade.

Kenya is set to burn 105 tons of siezed ivory. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), gathered in Sandton, have reached a compromise on dealing with ivory stockpiles.

Conservation groups say this exposes elephants to the menace of poaching for illegal ivory trade.

Cites parties have compromised the political will of countries from source, to end user to close domestic ivory markets and destroy ivory stockpiles.

Proposals were merged into a single resolution leaving each much weaker.

The proposal by 10 African elephant range states encouraging parties to destroy ivory stockpiles thus was watered down to a decision to develop guidelines for the management of stockpiles rather than destroy them.

Another proposal also by 10 African elephant range states led by Angola, calling for parties with legal domestic markets to close them; now only encourages countries to close those markets that contribute to poaching and illegal trade.

Meanwhile, the United Nations on Sunday called for the shutdown of all legal domestic ivory markets as it looks to combat poaching and put pressure on countries that continue to trade in elephant tusks.

"Today saw a historic moment toward tackling the illegal ivory trade that is killing 20,000 to 30,000 African elephants each year," said WWF-UK chief advisor on species, Heather Sohl.

Legal ivory markets, such as those in China and Japan, are often accused of fuelling elephant poaching because illegal ivory is sometimes sold through them.

"When there are legal markets for ivory it creates an opportunity for laundering of ivory into the country," said Wildlife Conservation Society vice president of international policy and head of delegation, Sue Lieberman.

Elephant numbers have continued to decline as poaching surges, with Africa's elephant population falling around 20% between 2006 and 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a report.

"There's a crisis right now, ivory poaching and trafficking are really out of control and something has to be done to crackdown on trafficking," Lieberman said.

Despite applause during the announcement of the resolution, some have criticized the decision, saying that prohibiting the sale of legal ivory will not curb the illegal trade.

"In the history of mankind there is not one record of any prohibition action being a success. Most certainly any attempt to impose prohibition on the sale of ivory and rhino horn will fail," said Ron Thomson of non-profit organisation the True Green Alliance.

Additional information by Reuters.