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A Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management official checks ivory inside a storeroom in Harare August 22, 2012. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

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By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe is seeking support from its neighbours to be allowed to engage in international trade in ivory and will not burn its 70 tonnes of ivory stocks as Kenya did last month, the environment minister said on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe and Namibia are bidding to open up international trade in elephant ivory, against initiatives led by Kenya for a complete global ban.

Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told diplomats from the Southern African Development Community that Zimbabwe was counting on their support at the next U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in September.

Muchinguri said banning trade in ivory would not stop poaching and gave the example of how the rhino population remained under threat 40 years after trading in the rhino horn was outlawed by CITES.

"There is no tangible evidence that trade bans have ever saved a species from extinction," Muchinguri said. "It is imperative for our regional economy that SADC countries unite in defending our right to sustainably use our natural resources."

Muchinguri said plans by the European Union to ban hunting trophies from Africa, as the United States did after the killing of Cecil the lion last year, would cause hunting revenues to fall and push people living near wildlife to resort to poaching.

Cash-strapped Zimbabwe says trade is the only way to pay for the costs of protecting its 83,000 elephants. Zimbabwe says it has 70 tonnes of raw ivory in government storage estimated to be worth $35 million.

"To us, burning is not an option, we need the resources for sustainable wildlife conservation," Muchinguri said.

On May 3, Zimbabwe put the wild animals in its national parks up for sale, saying it needed buyers to step in and save the beasts from a devastating drought.

Democratic Republic of Congo ambassador Mwampanga Mwana Nanga said his country supported Harare's proposals and was talking to Zimbabwe on the possibility of importing wildlife, including elephants.

At a meeting of African countries in Uganda on Wednesday on protecting lions, delegates agreed that carefully controlled hunting could help keep the species from extinction.

The final communique from the meeting of 28 states convened by CITES said: "the benefits that trophy hunting, where it is based on scientifically established quotas ... contributed to the conservation of lion populations."

Trophy hunting has been in the global media since Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe by an American dentist after it strayed outside Hwange National Park.

Lion numbers in Africa fell 43 percent between 1993 and 2014. But in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which have regulated hunting industries, the lion populations have grown, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

(Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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