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Elephants Win - Ivory Sales Banned

DOHA, QATAR -- Conservationists scored a rare victory at a United Nations wildlife meeting Monday when governments voted to reject weakening the 21-year-old ban on ivory sales over concerns that it would further contribute to poaching.

Environmentalists welcomed the decision, which came on the same day that countries agreed on a conservation plan for African and Asian rhinos. Delegates agreed to step up enforcement against rhino poaching, which is at a 15-year high, and work to slow the demand in Asia, mostly from traditional-medicine markets.

The debate over the proposed sale of Tanzania's and Zambia's ivory stocks divided Africa, as it has in years past, at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Nearly two dozen Central and East African countries came out against the proposals on the grounds that they would hurt already declining African elephant populations. Southern African countries, in contrast, argued that the two nations should be rewarded for their conservation efforts and should have the right to manage their herds as they see fit.

"People born in 100 years, they should be able to see an elephant," said Noah Wekesa, Kenya's minister of forestry and wildlife, whose country opposed the sales .

Many delegates and environmentalists were concerned that the ivory sales would further exacerbate a poaching problem that some say is at its highest levels since the 1989 ivory ban.

Tanzania was asking to sell almost 200,000 pounds of ivory, which would have generated as much as $20 million. It said in its proposal that its elephant population has risen from about 55,000 in 1989 to almost 137,000, according to a 2007 study.

Zambia wanted to sell 48,000 pounds of ivory worth $4 million to $8 million. It withdrew a request for the ivory sale and offered a compromise to allow a regulated trade in elephant parts, excluding ivory -- a first step toward tusk sales.

The two countries argued that their elephant populations had reached the point where they were trampling crops and killing people. They also said that preventing them from selling the stocks would increase anger toward the animals, which are seen increasingly as pests by affected communities.

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