The Geneva-based Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed in principle to the sales in 2002 on condition that the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) system establish up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on poaching and population levels.Today’s meeting of the CITES Standing Committee determined that this condition has not yet been satisfied and the sales may not go forward at this time.CITES, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989. In 1997, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations are healthy and well managed, it allowed Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale to Japan totalling 50 tonnes. Those sales took place in 1999 and earned some $5 million.The now suspended sales authorized in 2002 allowed the export of 30 tonnes from South Africa, 20 tonnes from Botswana and 10 tonnes from Namibia.In 2004, requests by several southern African countries for annual ivory quotas were turned down by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention. All legal sales of ivory derive from existing stocks gathered from elephants that have died as a result of natural causes or culling.The long-running debate over elephants has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side by side with large and often dangerous animals against concerns that such sales may increase poaching. The baseline data will make it possible to determine objectively what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching.In a related decision, the Standing Committee decided that Japan had established a sufficiently strong domestic trade control system to be a trading partner allowed to purchase the ivory when sales eventually proceed.