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International tusk politics.

International tusk politics

This October, a treaty organization known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will decide whether to place African elephants on its list of most threatened or endangered animals. Such listing prohibits CITES' signatory nations from engaging in commercial trade in these animals or their products.

The move to consider including African elephants reflects CITES specialists' assessment, reported in June, that all efforts to control the poaching of elephants for their ivory have failed. To cut the market for ivory -- in hopes of saving African elephants from an expected acceleration in slaughter by poachers between now and the threatened October trade ban--Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and the 12-nation European Economic Community have in recent weeks severely limited their ivory imports.

The United States and the European Economic Community, which formerly imported 10 and 20 percent of Africa's ivory respectively, will ban all imports except of legally acquired game "trophies." Japan, which formerly imported 38 percent of all African ivory, has vowed to import only whole tusks. Moreover, Japan has pledged to get those tusks only from African nations that maintain effective elephant-management programs and that have signed the CITES treaty. Hong Kong--which formerly bought and carved raw African ivory, then reexported most of it in commerce -- has agreed to ban new imports but will continue to export existing stockpiles as "worked" ivory. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say Hong Kong's current stockpile of at least 500 tons constitutes more than the total volume of ivory traded worldwide in any year.

The Ivory Trade Review Group, which includes many of the world's leading elephant researchers, trade specialists and economists, conducted a year-long analysis of the African elephant crisis for presentation last month at a CITES elephant meeting in Botswana. Since 1979, the group concludes, poaching has roughly halved the number of surviving elephants--to 625,000. The killing of bull elephants, prized for their big tusks, has so depressed their numbers that in some African regions they now represent less than 5 percent of all adult elephants. Evidence now shows, according to the report, that where bulls are so rare, "a female is likely to come into estrus without being detected by a male," further depressing the population.

As the bulls disappear, poachers increasingly hunt females, which often leave behind dependent calves. The orphans "may now account for up to one in three of all elephant deaths," the study finds. Moreover, elephant societies usually depend on the leadership of a mature matriarch. In one Tanzanian population, only 15 percent of elephant families are led by such a female, compared with a norm of 75 percent.
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Title Annotation:Science and Society
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 5, 1989
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