African nations urged European governments to protect the world's elephant population and resist calls for a new round of legal ivory sales. "The last elephants in Sierra Leone have been slaughtered by poachers only in the last few months," Kenyan Forest and Fauna Minister Noah Wekesa warned.
Representatives of the 17-country Coalition for the African Elephant came to Brussels seeking support after Tanzania and Zambia each requested fresh authorisations from international regulators.
"We are asking the European Union to take a clear stance in support of a nine-year moratorium adopted in 2007 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)," Wekesa told journalists. .
"The EU plays a major role within CITES," Wekesa insisted. "If it abstains during this vote, it will contribute towards worsening an already critical situation."
Experts say some 38,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks - out of total numbers of perhaps half a million. With black market sales on the rise again, some nations that consider their elephant populations to be out of danger are arguing stocks of the precious ivory should be sold legally.
Tanzania wants to be able to sell 90 tonnes of ivory, and Zambia 22 tonnes, but both need permission from the CITES international body when it next meets in Doha, Qatar, from March 13 to 25.
The EU's common position has yet to be worked out, said liberal Dutch lawmaker Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy.
"Britain, France, the Netherlands and Spain don't yet know what they will do, although they are inclined towards backing Tanzania's call," he said. "If the EU member states cannot agree, they abstain - which will be the equivalent of a green light to the poachers," Gerbrandy said.