Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi has gifted stools made from elephant feet to three African leaders during a meeting about the sale of ivory. The stools were covered in a blue cloth and given to the leaders of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

These countries and South Africa want to lift the ban on the sale of ivory, submitting that this trade would be crucial in assisting conservation projects. Masisi’s predecessor, Ian Khama, had implemented the strict elephant conservation policy but Masisi, who came into office last year, changed it.

South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe allow hunting and are backing the request for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to allow ivory stockpile sales in an attempt to fund elephant conservation.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the African elephant population has dropped significantly due to massive poaching in Africa. In the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3 to 5 million African elephants, but in the last decade it fell by 110,000. There are now around 415,000 left. It is estimated that an average of one elephant is killed every 25 minutes. African elephants continue to be poached by the tens and thousands each year for their ivory tusks despite a ban on the international trade of ivory.

Elephants tusks are in high demand in Asian countries and are used for jewellery and ornaments. Botswana is home to around 130,000 elephants, and there is huge rural support to lift the hunting ban. The country’s second largest source of foreign income comes from tourism.

Animal welfare organization, Network for Animals (NFA), said the gift itself shows no remorse for the brutal killing of these elephants to produce the stools.

“We appeal to these leaders to rethink their stance on the trade of ivory because it could lead to the possible extinction of elephants. Their population is declining like never before, and we need to help their species grow. Allowing ivory trade will see a dramatic increase in poaching, all for the sake of carved items and ornaments,” says NFA chief campaigner, David Barritt.

“We call on all African leaders to uphold the international ban on ivory trade. Restrictions are the best way to mitigate the killing of elephants.”