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Representatives of world governments meeting in London vowed Thursday to put stockpiles of ivory "beyond use" and extend a ban on its trade in a bid to save African elephants from extinction.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the conference that wildlife poaching was a global criminal industry that ranks with drugs, the arms trade and people trafficking.
"We are at the 11th hour to prevent the wildlife trade destroying some of the most extraordinary species in the world, but today I believe we have begun to turn the tide, if we follow up everything that has been agreed," Hague said.
He said tens of thousands of elephants were killed last year along with more than 1,000 rhinos, taken by an illegal trade that also threatens tigers and many other species.
The conference, attended by delegates from more than 40 countries, linked poaching to international crime, political corruption and even terrorism. In a communique, participants said poaching "fuels a cycle of instability, affecting poverty levels as well as regional and international security."
The conference called for greater international cooperation and tougher laws, and urged governments with stockpiles of ivory to destroy them.
The international ivory trade was banned in 1989, but one-off sales of stockpiles have been permitted by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species. Conservationists say that has helped fuel demand for the illegal elephant tusks.
The presidents of Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon and Tanzania, who attended the conference, backed an Elephant Protection Initiative that includes closing domestic ivory markets in countries that still have them; extending the ban on trade for at least 10 years; and putting stockpiles "beyond economic use."
The British government hosted the two-day conference, enlisting everyone from Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry to David Beckham to help drive home its anti-poaching message.