"While it's generally accepted that conservation sometimes demands the culling of elephants," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell, "there's a fear that once you rekindle trading in ivory, you create an incentive for poachers." During the '80s, Africa lost half of its elephant population to poachers supplying ivory traders in Asia. The ivory market has been effectively starved by the 1989 U.N. ban -- but 60 tons of tusks may be just the aperitif needed to whet its appetite.
Figure this one: The United Nations is temporarily lifting the international ban on the sale of ivory -- in order to raise money for elephant conservation! The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species announced Wednesday that three impoverished Southern African countries -- Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia -- would be allowed to sell 60 tons of stockpiled ivory. They've promised to spend the millions of dollars fetched by the tusks on new efforts at conservation.