Key forum fails to shield elephants

Elephants at Kamosop village in Solai, Nakuru County. [File, Standard]

African countries have regretted that participants at a global forum did not extend full protection for the continent’s elephants.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ends on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland, but African representatives said the decision on the future of elephants was an anticlimax.

Kenya’s Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko said while the proposals calling for the reopening of the international ivory trade were overwhelmingly rejected, the parties of the CITES did not take the necessary steps to provide the full protection to African elephants.

“This went contrary to the view of the majority of African countries in which the species lives,” Tobiko said.

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The African representatives said the EU, which is made up of a 28-country bloc vote, ultimately determined the outcome.

“The EU claimed that the range countries of the species were against stronger protection. This is a misrepresentation of facts since the proposal in question was submitted on behalf of countries representing 70 per cent of the African elephant range,” the representatives said.

“Furthermore, the chairman of the committee in which the debate raged failed to demonstrate the impartiality expected of him by often giving the floor to the countries of southern Africa, all who favour reopening the trade in ivory.

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In contrast, the proposal to ban trade, which was submitted by the other African range States under the banner of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), was dealt with in just 20 minutes. It is appalling that CITES member States did not give the issue of the African elephant’s survival the importance it deserves.”

Vera Weber, president of Foundation Franz Weber (FFW), said her organisation will continue to monitor the final days of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18), complete with its twists and turns.

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She said the debate on the export of live baby elephants, in particular, may not yet be over.

“The historical result in favour of a ban of exporting live elephants outside of Africa, which took place on Tuesday, August 18, has created quite a stir in Geneva, and continues to provoke intense debate among parties,” Weber said.

But on the positive side, two proposals that would have resulted in a resumption of ivory sales by amending the CITES Appendices for the African elephant were roundly defeated. Attempts by Southern African elephant range States at CITES today to resume international sales of ivory stockpiles were rejected by governments.

A proposal by Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell stockpiled ivory from their countries also failed after a vote by delegates from 183 countries.

“IFAW welcomes this outcome. Any legal market in ivory presents opportunities for the laundering of illegal ivory. We are yet to see any evidence that legal ivory trade is being adequately controlled to prevent this from happening,” said Matt Collis, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Director of International Policy.

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He called on parties to focus on the closure of domestic markets and increase their law enforcement efforts to prevent illegal trade.

“Poaching skyrocketed across Africa after the last ivory stockpile sales back in 2008. IFAW is delighted governments at CITES have chosen to reject repeating that failed experiment,” Collis said.

Data show that elephants are in crisis with at least 20,000 being illegally killed each year for their ivory.

On average around 55 elephants are poached every day in Africa. Recent analysis appears to show a clear correlation between the 2008 ivory stockpile sales and an increase in illegal trade and poaching. There has been an estimated increase of 71 per cent in ivory smuggling out of Africa following the 2008 stockpile sales.

The proposal by Zambia to downlist its elephants was rejected by 102 countries with 22 in support and 13 abstentions. A similar proposal by Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe was rejected by 101 countries, with 23 in support and 18 abstentions.

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