updated 12/15/2003 3:28:05 PM ET 2003-12-15T20:28:05

Nearly 9,000 pounds of illegal ivory is on sale in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal, three countries singled out for failing to regulate a trade that's fueling poaching and threatening the survival of elephants, wildlife advocacy groups said in a new report.

The three nations _ which have nearly wiped out their own elephant populations _ have virtually ignored a worldwide ban on ivory trade and their flourishing illegal markets are "driving elephant poaching" in West and Central Africa, according to a joint report released Monday by TRAFFIC, an organization which monitors trade in endangered species, and the World Wildlife Fund, an international conservation group.

"These studies show just a snapshot of the problem," said Tom Milliken, director of TRAFFIC for eastern and southern Africa. "When we factor in all of the uncontrolled manufacturing, buying and selling over a year, these numbers climb to frightening dimensions."

The U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, banned the worldwide ivory trade in 1989. It lists elephants as an endangered species, but allows limited ivory trade in several countries that already had stocks to dispose of.

The CITES ban is currently applied in 164 nations -- including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

But "all three governments are in breach of ivory market control requirements under international regulations," the 78-page report said.

The report said "inadequate legislation and poor law enforcement" have allowed ivory sellers to flourish.

"Not only is there a lack of political will to implement CITES, allowing traders to act with immunity from prosecution, corruption is preventing effective controls on the ivory trade," said Susan Lieberman, director of World Wildlife Fund International's Species Program.

The three countries have nearly wiped out their own elephant populations, and so most of the illegal ivory comes from Congo, Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Gabon _ countries the report said comprised "Africa's most troubled region for elephant conservation."

In Senegal, customs agents have "systematically barred" wildlife authorities who were trying to enforce the worldwide ban, the report said.

Once across the border, tusks are carved into intricate ornaments and sold to tourists and businessmen from Europe, the United States, and Asian nations, particularly China and Korea.

At the Soumbedioune market in the Senegalese capital Dakar, traders openly hawk jewelry, lamps and human and animal figures carved from ivory, displaying them under glass counters.

"We do plenty of business. Everyone knows the pieces are beautiful," said one trader, 43-year-old Cheikh Mbacke.

Mbacke and other traders claim the ivory is from old stocks or elephants who died naturally.

In 1980, there were 1.2 million African and Asian elephants in the world. A decade later, that population had been halved. Elephant numbers have stabilized since, with 500,000 elephants in Africa and fewer than 50,000 in Asia.

The report said less than 550 elephants may still roam Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

In Senegal, they may have already been wiped out: Its Niokola Koba National Park was home to several dozen elephants just five years ago. Repeated aerial surveys in 2002 found no elephants, though ground evidence suggested there might be two.

"It is time that Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Senegal took concrete steps to effectively implement CITES in their countries," Lieberman said.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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