Conservationists welcome move to tighten international legal protection for elephants
As Kenya prepares to burn 105 tonnes of stockpiled ivory on Saturday 30 April – the largest destruction of ivory in Africa’s history and seven times the size of any ivory stockpile destroyed so far – non-governmental organizations working to save elephants are praising African countries for their plans to secure a permanent ban on the global ivory trade and the destruction of ivory stockpiles worldwide.
This week, on behalf of the 27 member states in the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), Co-Chairs Benin and Kenya along with several other member countries have submitted five complementary proposals for discussion at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to be held in Johannesburg from 24 September to 5 October. By banning global ivory trade, closing domestic markets and recommending destruction of stockpiles, the strong package is designed to ensure the long-term survival of elephants in Africa and Asia. The set of measures includes listing all African elephants in Appendix I of CITES, affording them the highest level of international protection.
“African Elephants are declining at an alarming rate. The world needs to act now and ban ivory trade categorically and permanently, before it is too late. It is vital that elephant populations across Africa are united in Appendix I”, said Vera Weber, President of Fondation Franz Weber.
“We applaud the governments united in the African Elephant Coalition for putting forward a strong package that would afford elephants the highest level of international protection. We urge all CITES Parties to support this move and to help save the world’s remaining elephants”, added Sally Case, CEO of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
“Clearly, all previous experiments to permit a legal, controlled trade in ivory have failed. We can turn the tide if we close the legal markets that enable laundering of ivory from poached elephants or leaked from stockpiles”, declared Daniela Freyer, Co-founder of Pro Wildlife.
“More and more governments around the world are acting against elephant poaching: whether it is announcements to close domestic markets, bans on ivory exports or imports or the rapidly increasing destruction of ivory stockpiles. It’s time to acknowledge that ivory trade needs to be stopped on a global scale – once and for all”, said Charlotte Nithart, CEO of Robin des Bois.
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CITES  entered into force in 1975 and regulates trade in more than 35,000 species of animals and plants. Currently 182 countries are Parties to the Convention.
The five proposals submitted this week by the African Elephant Coalition concern the following topics:
- Listing all African Elephant populations in CITES Appendix I. 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 sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan (in 1999) and to Japan and China in 2008. Contrary to arguments made by the proponents at that time, the down-listing and stockpile sales did not slow poaching. Rather they stimulated a renewed illegal trade in ivory and elephant poaching in response to increasing demand, particularly after the second sale involving China. The proposal submitted now by members of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) recommends the transfer of the four populations in Appendix II back to Appendix I of CITES, meaning that all elephants in Africa and Asia will enjoy the highest standard of protection under the Convention. International ivory trade will be prohibited by international law. Elephant populations are being hit hard by illegal killing in all parts of Africa. A universal listing in Appendix I will outlaw the ivory trade, simplify enforcement and send a clear message to the world of a global determination to halt the extinction of African elephants.
- Closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory. This complements the Appendix I proposal by suggesting CITES recommends that all governments close domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory. Many countries continue to permit domestic trade, which maintains demand for ivory and creates opportunities to launder poached ivory, often under the guise that it is antique or otherwise legally acquired. Several countries including China and the US have already announced measures to close down domestic markets. The AEC proposal would extend that approach globally.
- Destroying ivory stockpiles. Seizures of poached ivory have swollen governmental ivory stockpiles held in range, transit and consumer countries. Many CITES countries have already publicly destroyed stockpiles, sending a clear signal that ivory trade must be outlawed in order to save elephants. The AEC proposal endorses stockpile destructions and commissions 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 ivory.
- Ending the Decision-Making Mechanism for legalising trade in ivory. For nine years CITES has discussed a Decision-Making Mechanism (DMM) for future ivory trade. There is no prospect of agreement by governments, while continuing the debate encourages poaching and stockpiling of ivory for future “legalised” trade. Economic analysis shows this would risk a runaway expansion of ivory trade with devastating effects on elephants. The AEC proposal would end discussion of the DMM by CITES.
- Prohibiting export of live African elephants. This proposal would end the export of African elephants outside their natural range, including export to zoos overseas. This would be consistent with findings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the removal of African elephants from the wild for captive use has no direct benefit for their conservation but indeed disrupts wild populations and leads to high rates of mortality and disease in captivity.