Geneva - Proposals to ease restrictions on ivory exports from southern Africa were rejected on Thursday at a meeting of the 183 countries that have signed on to the global pact on wildlife trade.
Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe argued that rules could be loosened because protection efforts had let elephant populations grow.
Amid lack of support from other parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Zambia withdrew its request to allow ivory trade.
The other southern African countries did not win enough support for their planned one-off sale of ivory stocks that was to be followed by a moratorium.
Germany was among many countries who wanted to stick to current restrictions and bans.
"To fight poaching, it is important that there is no international legal market where poached ivory could be 'laundered'," German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement.
A Zambian envoy warned that the restrictions could weaken public support to protect elephants in his country, as locals communities would like to earn money from limited hunting.
Delegates in Geneva also agreed to step up protection of giraffes.
Trade with their meat, leather and hunting trophies will only be allowed in the future if the exporting country proves that populations are not being endangered.