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EU backs Kenya stand against trade in ivory

By | February 13th 2010

By Juma Kwayera and Peter Orengo

The European Union has backed Kenya’s opposition to partially lifting the ban on ivory trade. The European Parliament voted on Wednesday in favour of the 23 States that make up the Africa Elephant Coalition (AEC) of elephant range states opposed to resumption of international trade in ivory.

This follows a campaign by Tanzania and Zambia against the restriction. The proposals by the two countries will be discussed next month at the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fauna (Cites) in Doha, Qatar.

According to Europeanvoices.com, an online publication, "The vote in favour of a trade ban – passed by a show of hands on Wednesday comes as the European Union attempts to forge a common position for a big international meeting on protecting endangered species."

It quotes Jo Leinen, a German socialist MP, who chairs the parliament’s environment committee, as saying, "The EU has to adopt a leading role when it comes to the protection of wild species endangered by extinction at the upcoming conference in Doha."

With this vote, the EU has declined to back re-categorisation of the African elephant, a resolution that seals the fate of the two proposals for the down-listing the African elephant from Appendix I — category of species threatened with extinction and in which international trade is prohibited — to Appendix II, to allow limited trade in endangered plants and animals.

The conference takes place from March 13 to 25 in Doha, during which the Tanzanian and Zambian proposals, with strong backing from main ivory buying nations — Japan and China — will be evaluated.

Largest haul

Tanzania wants to be allowed to sell 90 tonnes of ivory, while Zambia is looking to dispose of nearly 23 tonnes. It would be the largest one-off sales since trade in ivory was banned 21 years ago. The two states are supported by the 13-member Southern African Development Community bloc, to which they belong.

"[The] European Parliament resolution explicitly urges the commission and member-states to reject all proposals that would result in any resumption of the African elephant ivory trade until such time as a proper assessment can be made of the impact on poaching of the November 2008 one-off sales of ivory from a number of southern African countries," read a statement in part.

The stand is also supported by a recent report by United States conservationists on the status of the African elephant titled The Ivory Trade = A Renewed Elephant Holocaust. It accuses Tanzania of complicity in poaching. It says:

"At present, Tanzania is at the centre of the world’s ivory slaughter. However, other data collected by Wasser and his team indicate that different areas, including parts of Zambia and Malawi, have been targeted in the recent past. Prominent scientists are ringing the alarm bells and have warned that the illegal slaughter of African elephants for ivory is now worse than it was at its peak in the 1980s."

The elephant population is estimated at only 470,000, though some say it could be lower. Trade in ivory was banned in 1989.

The EU vote coincided with a report the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Head of Species Conservation and Management Patrick Omondi had been invited to address the United States Congress on Kenya’s stand.

Omondi was in Washington at the invitation of the US House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources. Although the testimony scheduled for Thursday before House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife was called off due to extreme weather, it was a pointer that the US would oppose any action that will trigger poaching.

Last month, Forestry and Wildlife Minister Noah Wekesa led a delegation to Brussels, Belgium, to seek support of the EU in upholding the nine-year ivory trade moratorium reached at the 2007 Cites meeting at The Hague, The Netherlands.

The AEC, co-chaired by Kenya and Mali, comprises 37 African elephant range states, but 23 oppose trade in ivory.

In the countdown to the Brussels meeting, the EU had come under criticism for its indifference to the fate of the elephant.

"In 1963 there were 1.3 million elephants in Africa. Today there are less than 500,000. If things go on at this rate, in another 50 years there will be no more wild elephants left at all. The EU must come out of the bush and support us now. The European Commission needs to lead," said Ms Vera Weber, a senior official of the Fondation Franz Weber that runs a national park on behalf of the government of Togo.

The African Elephant Coalition argues that the spirit of the Cites agreement has been violated by Tanzania and Zambia in their submission of a proposal to be allowed to trade in 113 tonnes of ivory.

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