BANGKOK - Eight nations accused of failing to do enough to tackle the illegal trade in elephant ivory escaped sanctions at a major wildlife meeting on Thursday.
The plight of Africa's elephants was one of the top issues at a more than a week of talks bringing together the 178 member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok.
The conference identified Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda as well as transit countries Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and top markets China and Thailand as making insufficient efforts to curb the trade.
But they avoided punishment after six of them submitted draft action plans in response and China and Tanzania committed to do so by a specific date.
Under the convention, member states can halt trading with offender countries in the 35,000 species covered by the convention.
CITES General Secretary John Scanlon said such measures were a "last resort" and should only be imposed "where there's a clear failure to comply and no intention to comply".
"We have not got to that point in my view. At this point we actually have states that are engaged," he told AFP.
The eight nations defended themselves in the face of the accusations, which led media to dub them the "Gang of Eight".
"We are not denying that we have an active seaport and an active airport, and that we have challenges," said Kenyan delegate Patrick Omondi.
"We should not be lumped together as a Gang of Eight. Transit and source countries have unique challenges," he said. "We feel the focus should be on the demand side."
Illicit trade in ivory has doubled since 2007 and more than tripled over the past 15 years, according to wildlife groups, which estimate that only about 420,000 to 650,000 elephants remain in Africa.
Conservationists fear that 2012 was an even deadlier year than 2011, when an estimated 25,000 African elephants were killed.
In an effort to better track the illicit commerce, CITES members adopted new measures under which countries making large seizures of illegal ivory will be required to conduct DNA tests to determine their origin.