By Martin Banks - 25th January 2010
The EU has been urged to support calls for a crackdown on the international trade in ivory.
Speaking in parliament on Monday, Dutch ALDE member Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy called on the EU to oppose demands from Tanzania and Zambia to lift ban on tusk sales.
He said, "The EU must take a stand and speak out against these proposals."
His comments come as representatives of 17 African countries arrived in Brussels on Monday to appeal to the EU to defend the nine year total moratorium on ivory trade for all countries, including the 27 member states.
Gerbrandy said that despite playing a pivotal role in negotiating the ban, there are fears that the EU support for elephant conservation may not be ambivalent "at best".
Addressing a news conference, he said that calls by Tanzania and Zambia for a partial lifting of the ban were "entirely against" the spirit of the moratorium signed in 2007.
If it went ahead, the MEP said the sale would be the third "one-off" auction of ivory since the world ban came into force.
He said the EU's 27 votes within the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (Cites) was "crucial".
"If the EU abstains on this it will be the equivalent of giving a green light to a resumption in the international ivory trade," he said.
The deputy said the appeal comes amid the "rising" problem of elephants being killed for their tusks. It is a trade, he said, which is nowadays often run by organised criminals.
He said that worldwide 100 elephants a day were being poached and killed, equal to 40,000 a year.
In 2009 in Kenya, he said 232 elephants were killed for their tusks, compared with 144 in 2008 and 47 in 2007. The elephant population in another African state, Chad, had fallen from 4000 a few years ago to just 600 while the demand for valuable ivory tusks has seen the elimination of all elephants in Sierra Leone.
"This trade, which endangers the future of elephants, will continue unless something is done," said Gerbrandy, who is one of three MEPs that will represent parliament in the latest Doha trade talks later this year where the issue is expected to be raised.
Speaking alongside the MEP was Noah Wekesa, Kenyan minister for forestry and wildlife, who endorsed his call to the EU.
He said, "This is really the last call for elephants in Africa. The devastating poaching of the 1980s which was first controlled through Cites is now so prevalent again that the African elephant is all but extinct in some countries where once they roamed.
"This is because limited legal sales were allowed in the past providing the perfect cover for illegal trade in poached ivory."
Wekesa is a member of the African Elephant Coalition which is in Brussels to press its case in a series of meetings with senior figures, including Belgian MEP Louis Michel, co-chair of the ACP-EU joint parliamentary assembly.
He will address a meeting of the assembly on Thursday while a report, expected to be adopted by parliament's environment committee later this week, will condemn any lifting of the ivory ban.