Battle Lines Drawn as 29 African Nations Advocate Ban on International Trade in Elephant Ivory
The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), in a decisive move to reverse the poaching crisis facing African elephants, will advocate for a permanent ban on international trade in elephant ivory at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which opens on Saturday 24 September in Johannesburg, South Africa. The AEC comprises 29 African countries representing 70 percent of African elephant range States.
Standing in opposition are three southern African range States – Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – calling for CITES rules to be relaxed, allowing ivory to be traded legally on a global scale in the future as it was until 1989.
All populations of African elephants were listed on CITES Appendix I in 1989, effectively banning international ivory trade. But the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) were down-listed to Appendix II (a less endangered status) to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008. New research published in June and August 2016 directly links the 2008 sales to the recent escalation in poaching.
The AEC’s package of five proposals would again fully ban international trade in ivory by listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I, close domestic ivory markets around the world, end further debate on a mechanism to legalise ivory trade in the future, improve management of ivory stockpiles and endorse their destruction, and restrict trade in live, wild-caught elephants.
Meanwhile, Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted proposals to delete the annotation to the Appendix II listing of their elephant populations to allow an “unqualified” trade in ivory. Along with South Africa, they also propose to adopt, without further discussion, a mechanism to permit commercial exports of ivory from Appendix II range States to any importing “partner” states.
Conservation groups were encouraged earlier this month when the IUCN World Conservation Congress, at its meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, voted by a 90 percent majority to pass a resolution, strongly backed by the US, France and AEC countries, urging countries to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw or worked elephant ivory.
“This is a huge boost for elephants on the eve of the CITES conference,” says Dr Rosalind Reeve, senior advisor to Fondation Franz Weber and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which have been actively campaigning for a comprehensive ban on ivory trade and the closure of domestic ivory markets.
The meeting was in effect a dress rehearsal for CITES. Namibia, Japan and South Africa repeatedly tried to dilute the strong language of the motion and at one point walked out of the negotiations. They later proposed more than 20 amendments, all of which were voted down. Notably abstaining from the final vote were Belgium, Germany, Norway and the UK.
“It is regrettable that the UK government was the only major European country which failed to attend IUCN, said Sally Case, CEO of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. “A government which claims in its party manifesto to be committed to stop the ivory trade was reduced to ‘Abstaining by Proxy’ on a resolution designed to achieve that.”
While the IUCN’s policies carry considerable moral authority, the organisation does not have legal authority to enforce its resolutions on governments.
“The real decisions to protect elephants will take place at CITES,” says Vera Weber, President and CEO of Fondation Franz Weber. “We hope the IUCN vote will motivate CITES delegates to adopt these proposals submitted by the majority of African governments which will comprehensively prohibit commercial sales of ivory for good, and hopefully halt the catastrophic decline of elephants.”
On 31 August the Great Elephant Census revealed a huge recent decline in savannah elephants, with an estimated 144,000 (30 percent) lost in 18 African countries between 2007 and 2014, a rate of eight percent per year or one every 15 minutes.
Mixed signals from EU member states at IUCN, where they vote individually unlike at CITES where they vote as a bloc, recall theEuropean Commission decision on 1 July to oppose a ban on international trade in elephant ivory, recommending instead to encourage countries to “sustainably manage” their elephant populations. The move was widely denounced by the AEC, conservation groups, and the general public – a petition supporting a global ban on ivory from the online activist community Avaaz has received nearly 1.3 million signatures.
In contrast to the European Commission, a 15 September European Parliament resolution categorically endorses the AEC proposals to put all elephants on CITES Appendix I.
“The European MEPs have listened to the European citizens, conservationists and the large majority of African elephant range States calling for an end to all ivory trade,” says Daniela Freyer, Co-founder of Pro Wildlife. “We call on the 28 EU governments at CITES to support the strictest protection for all elephants rather than to use them as chips in a diplomatic poker game.”
The CITES CoP 17 opens on Saturday 24 September following a meeting of its Standing Committee and a ministerial meeting on Friday 23 September. Committee discussions on issues related to elephants are slated to begin on Monday 26 September. Negotiations continue through Wednesday 5 October.
Fondation Franz Weber, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Pro Wildlife will be reporting out from CITES CoP17 on a regular basis and are available for in-person or online interviews, expert analysis and background on the negotiations.
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A summary of the five proposals submitted by the African Elephant Coalition to CITES can be found here. The links to the proposals follow:
1. Listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I: CoP17 Prop. 16
The proposal seeks to unify all African elephant populations and their range States in one Appendix I listing, ending split-listing through the transfer from Appendix II of the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The African elephant as a species is not constrained within State borders, nor indeed are national populations. Many are shared with more than one country, arguing for a unified approach to their regulation under CITES. This action seeks to gain the maximum protection for elephants by simplifying and improving enforcement and sending a clear message to the world that ivory cannot be legally traded under international law.
2. Closure of domestic ivory markets: CoP17 Doc. 57.2
This proposal calls for closure of all domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory. Closing all internal markets in range, transit and end-user consumer States would drastically reduce opportunities for the laundering of poached ivory, under the guise that it is antique, “pre-Convention” or otherwise legally acquired. It would also reinforce the message that all ivory sales should be stopped, as they are dangerous for elephants.
3. Ivory stockpile destruction and management: CoP17 Doc. 57.3
This proposal builds on two earlier papers submitted to the CITES Standing Committee in 2014 and 2016, which led to recognition by the Committee of the destructions of ivory stockpiles by governments since 2011, and a recommendation to develop guidance on stockpile management. It endorses ivory destruction, encourages the highest possible standards of stockpile management, and requests the CITES Secretariat to provide the best available technical guidance on stockpile inventories, audit, management and disposal, including DNA sampling to determine the origin of items in the stockpile.
4. The Decision-Making Mechanism for a process of trade in ivory (DMM): CoP17 Doc. 84.2
The proposal recommends that the CoP should end negotiations on the DMM. In view of the concerted global efforts to reduce demand for ivory, the existence of negotiations on a DMM process to legalise trade sends precisely the wrong message – that a legal and sustainable ivory trade is possible, and could reopen in the not-too-distant future. The DMM not only poses unacceptable risks for elephants, but has also generated valid objections among Parties, as shown by the fact that CITES has been unable to make any progress in negotiations after nine years.
5. Restricting trade in live elephants: CoP17 Doc. 57.4
The proposal aims to end the export of African elephants outside their natural range, including export to zoos and other captive facilities overseas. Such exports provide no direct benefit to conservation of elephants in their range States (as noted by the IUCN-SSC African Elephant Specialist Group), and there are considerable objections within Africa on ethical and cultural grounds. African elephants, along with their ivory, should remain in Africa.