Peace for elephants

16 Jun 1997


CITES is devoted to regulating international trade of animal and plant species and derivatives. Now, there is a split between consumers and a few African ivory range states producers : the first are, under the current trade status, reluctant to buy ivory – including Japan where 60 environmental groups signed-on to an open letter against the downlisting – but the producers want to sell ivory at all costs.

Through the regulation of international trade, CITES obviously has as its ultimate aim the long-term conservation of threatened species. In this case it is concerned with Loxodonta africana, and cannot consider changing its guidelines according to political and administrative borders. The African elephant population is clearly distinguished through biological continuity throughout the African continent. Though, elephants are said to be intelligent, they could not expected to understand that, for instance, along the northern Zambesi bank they are listed on Appendix I, while along the southern bank, they could be subject to trade. The three southern African proposals are not acceptable because elephants are a migratory species and are listed as such by the Bonn Convention on migratory species. Thus, they must form the subject of regional and interregional arrangements. African elephants could contribute to unifing African countries.

Unfortunately, in western, central, eastern or southern Africa, elephants could also unify ivory poachers who are aware that, contrary to whale meat stocks, it’s impossible to determine the origine of ivory by forensic analyses. The reopening of the international ivory trade, even partial or deferred, would be a wonderful gift for poachers and smugglers. They are likely to take advantage especially at a time when political and social conditions in central Africa jeopardize proper wildlife management, facilitate illegal traffic and complicate the customs regulations.

Everyone, including ecologists from so-called rich countries, must pay attention and participate in efforts to reduce territorial conflicts between local people and wildlife in Africa. But, in the countries proposing the downlisting a fair distribution of fertile lands, a better distribution of areas devoted to wildlife, mining, intensive agriculture and horticultural activities, as well as irrigation works and dams, would assist local communities and wildlife to live together.

For these, as well as other reasons outlined by the Species Survival Network, the Robin des Bois Association urges all European and African countries not to forget that Europe constitutes an important transit point for both legal and illegal ivory trade and to oppose any modification of the current status of African elephants.

While also confronted with sporadic conflicts between Asian elephants and local people, India strongly opposes the reopening of international ivory trade: thus setting the right example.





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