Call to close ivory markets agreed at Cites conference

·As countries fail to agree on complete ban of African lions from global trade

Delegates at a United Nations (UN) wildlife conference have endorsed calls for the closure of all domestic ivory markets.

The non-binding proposal was approved at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in South Africa.

According to BBC, conservationists have hailed it as a significant step towards ending the current elephant poaching crisis.

However Japan, which has a large domestic ivory trade, said the proposal did not apply there.

While the international market in ivory has been closed since 1989, legal domestic markets have continued in many countries around the world.

There has been growing concern that domestic trading has encouraged the poaching of elephants.

A surge in killing over the past seven years has seen populations across Africa shrink by a third, according to the recently published Great Elephant Census. What is driving the slaughter is the value of ivory, which can sell for around $1,100 (£850) per kilo in China.

“It is an important step on the road to closing worldwide ivory markets. It is the first time that Cites has agreed to intervene so directly in domestic ivory,” said Robert Hepworth, a former chair of the Cites standing committee.

Meanwhile, the 182 countries at the summit were unable to agree on a proposal from nine African countries to ban all international trade in lion parts.

African lions have shrunk to just eight per cent of their historic range, with only 20,000 left in the wild. About 1,500 a year are hunted as trophies, a practice that attracted global attention last year after an American dentist killed Cecil the lion with a crossbow in Zimbabwe.

A rising trade in lion bones to Asia, where such bones are replacing scarce tiger bones in supposed tonics, has raised fears of further declines. South Africa alone legally exported 1,200 skeletons (11 tonnes of bones) between 2008 and 2011, the latest figures available.

The UKguardian reported that instead, a compromise agreement banned only the trade in bones, teeth and claws from wild lions.

Tsekedi Khama, Environment Minister in Botswana, which backed a total ban, said “It would be a very, very sad day when we are not able to show our children’s children what a lion looks like because they have been hunted into extinction.”