China has been given a green light to begin importing African ivory by a UN body that banned the sale 10 years ago, a decision that has infuriated conservation groups, the Daily Telegraph reports. African states say they need to sell stockpiles of ivory from elephants that are culled or die of natural causes in order to fund conservation efforts. Critics believe the move will encourage poaching and put more pressure on endangered elephant populations.
The trade ban was partially lifted in 1999 when Japan was allowed to buy ivory at an auction after it was deemed to have sufficient safeguards in place to screen out illegal trading. Now the UN group, CITES, has decided that China has met those standards, and will be allowed to bid against Japan at a second auction. "We are deeply disappointed that CITES has backed China as an ivory buyer, a decision that plays Russian roulette with wild elephants," said the director of an animal welfare group.