Nearly 10 years of talks about legalising the international trade in ivory have been scrapped amid efforts to save the elephant from rampant poaching.

The population of the African elephant has fallen by more than 110,000 in just a decade, leaving a population of some 415,000. There has been a campaign to legalise the trade in ivory, rhino horn and other animal parts, with supporters arguing that turning endangered animals into a valuable economic resource could actually help save them from extinction.

However, at an international meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), member states voted to end negotiations about a legalised international trade which began in 2007. The European Union used its bloc vote of 28 countries to back the decision.

A European Commission (EC) spokesperson said: “In the current circumstances where poaching and trafficking levels remain at alarmingly high levels, the EU considers that there is no justification to prolong discussions on the possibility and conditions that international trade in ivory could resume in the future. The EU recognises the challenges faced by elephant range states and is a strong supporter of African countries for biodiversity protection and in their fights against wildlife trafficking.”

Under current rules, trade in old ivory – before the elephant became formally protected – is allowed; also domestic trade in any kind of ivory is allowed within Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. An EC source told The Independent that the EU had not excluded the idea that the debate could re-open but “only after clear indications that elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have substantially decreased”.

Two countries, Namibia and Zimbabwe, had tabled motions that sought to explore the possibility of a legal international trade. South Africa has also joined them in opposing the current international ban, which is due to expire next year.

During a debate at London’s Royal Institution ahead of the CITES meeting, South African John Hume, who has the world’s largest rhino farm, argued “If the international ban on trade in rhino horn is seen by the world’s conservation body… to be a positive strategy for all rhinos species, why has South Africa lost 6,000 rhinos to poaching in the last few years?” he said.

“These resources are the birthright of the African people and a major avenue to uplift its people, the rural community who are the poorest of the poor and an easy target for criminals who recruit them for becoming poachers.”

But Will Travers, the president of the Born Free Foundation, hit back saying the future of some of the “world’s most iconic species” would be at risk from a legalised trade, describing the prospect as a “nightmare” for conservation efforts.

And, speaking to The Independent last week, Paul Gathitu, of the Kenya Wildlife Service, said: “The moment you start selling, you are placing a value on that ivory. And if you give a little of ivory this year, they want more next year.”