BRUSSELS — African nations on Monday urged European governments to resist calls for a new round of legal ivory sales and protect the world's elephant population.
Representatives of the 17-country Coalition for the African Elephant came to Brussels seeking support after Tanzania and Zambia each requested fresh authorisations from international regulators.
"We are asking the European Union to take a clear stance in support of a nine-year moratorium adopted in 2007 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)," Kenyan Forest and Fauna Minister Noah Wekesa told journalists.
Experts say some 38,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks -- out of total numbers of perhaps half a million.
With black market sales on the rise again, some nations that consider their elephant populations to be out of danger are arguing stocks of the precious ivory should be sold legally.
Tanzania wants to be able to sell 90 tonnes of ivory, and Zambia 22 tonnes, but both need permission from the CITES international body when it next meets in Doha, Qatar, from March 13 to 25.
A 1989 ban on ivory sales, a measure destined to protect the African elephant and rhino, was relaxed in June 2007 under a compromise that prolonged the moratorium but allowed Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to make a one-off sale of 108 tonnes to buyers in China and Japan.
"The EU plays a major role within CITES," Wekesa insisted. "If it abstains during this vote, it will contribute towards worsening an already critical situation.
"The last elephants in Sierra Leone have been slaughtered by poachers only in the last few months," he warned.
The EU's common position has yet to be worked out, said liberal Dutch lawmaker Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.
"Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain don't yet know what they will do, although they are inclined towards backing Tanzania's call," he said.
"If the 27 member states cannot agree, they abstain -- which will be the equivalent of a green light to the poachers," Gerbrandy warned.
A negotiator told AFP on Monday that member states were "working to find a consensus to ensure African elephants are protected".
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