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Why Kenya took war on ivory, tortoises and giraffes to global wildlife trade treaty

By Caroline Chebet | August 22nd 2019 at 09:36:07 GMT +0300

A girrafe crosses the road as motorists give way and local residents go about their daily duties in Lewa Downs Wildlife coonservancy, Meru county. [Elvis Ogina/Standard]

Kenya is set to revive the debate on the ban of ivory, introduce the 'tall disturbing tale' of giraffes and call for protection of sharks, rays and tortoises in the ongoing global wildlife trade treaty meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

In its proposal, Kenya will again, revive the debate on ivory, a topic that has since dominated Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(Cites) for the last 30 years.

In its proposals to the global wildlife trade treaty, Kenya slotted endangered species into the 56 proposals to be debated on. They included proposals to protect the African elephant by totally banning trade on ivory, a proposal for more protection of pancake tortoises, teat fishes, wedge fishes and for the first time, graced the global wildlife treaty with a proposal to protect the giraffes.

While increasing efforts of protecting pancake tortoises, Kenya joined hands with the United States to call on Cites to up the listing of the species to Appendix I from Appendix II meaning, the species should no longer be traded under special circumstances as it was. Listing on Appendix I will mean tortoises will be given the highest possible protection.

In the proposal, Kenya noted that pancake tortoises were highly vulnerable to extinction with their low reproductive potential dealing a blow. Pancake tortoises are found in dry savannahs of Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia but they face continued exploitation for the international pet trade within the range states.

Although Kenya discontinued exporting pancake tortoises in 1981 at least three breeding farms have been licensed. Data from Cites indicates that between 2005 and 2016, 1,701 exports of captive-bred tortoises were exported.

The major importer of the species in the last two decades has been Japan, followed by the United States, Hong Kong, and the EU Member States.

"Kenya has licensed three breeding farms and exported 1,701 captive-bred animals between 2005 and 2016, an average of 47 specimens per farm per year. Listing under Appendix I is needed to end the ongoing detrimental harvesting of pancake tortoises for international trade," the proposal noted.

Pancake tortoises are highly valued for international pet trade due to its unique appearance and behavior. It is estimated that a live pancake tortoise fetches up to Sh 59,500 in the US while in Europe a juvenile pancake tortoise goes between Sh25,000 and 45,000 while a breeding age one goes for Sh 80,000.

In Kenya, about 95 percent of the species are found outside protected areas of Tsavo East National Park, Kitui South, Shaba, Buffalo Springs, and Samburu National Reserves. They are also found in Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy and a few have been recorded in Laikipia Conservancies.

Over-exploitation for commercial trade is however considered the single most important threat, with increasing numbers of animals recorded in trade.

"In the past 20 years more than 40,000 live animals have been exported according to the CITES trade database, mostly for commercial purposes," Kenya and US argued in their proposal. Zambia, however, is the largest exporter that recorded 24,000 pancake tortoises being exported from the country between 2006 and 2016.

While campaigning for the highest protection of African elephants, Kenya led Niger and Gabon in rallying delegates from 180 counties meeting for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in ensuring the highest protection possible.

In their proposal, they want the species listed in Appendix I of the Cites, meaning, they should be given the highest protection available and a total ban of ivory and trade of African elephant parts.

Their campaign for a total ban on ivory and trade of African elephant parts conflicts with other African countries like Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe are also proposing that ivory from elephants in their region be traded.

They want elephants to remain under Appendix II, meaning, trade is regulated under some circumstances.
African elephant conservation, particularly the ivory trade, has been a dominant issue within CITES for more than 30 years. The issue is further fuelled by the recent increase in poaching and the trafficking of ivory.

In this year's meeting, Kenya's proposal on the restriction of trade of ivory is backed by several countries with the same agenda including Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Togo.
Zambia and its like-minded states are seeking to have its elephants downlisted to Appendix II to allow commercial trade in registered raw ivory with approved trading partners.

The debate raged as reports pointed to the alarming outgoing flow of ivory from Africa. This is despite China, previously the largest legal domestic ivory market in the world, closing its domestic market as of December 2017.

Kenya also graced Cites meeting to join hands with over 30 countries including Egypt, EU, Ethiopia among others to campaign for regulated trade of wedge fishes and teat fishes.
The proposal to campaign for teat fishes also saw Kenya joining EU, USA, Senegal, and Seychelles calling for regulated trade of the species.

The countries said exploitation of teat fishes has risen for the last 25 years as poaching of fishes intensifies.

"An inclusion of teat fish in CITES Appendix II will permit to manage and sustain their trade in the greatest interest of fishermen, exporters, and importers, while preserving these species and therefore let them play their ecological role, and responding to the future generations need," the proposal read.

The countries noted that their high commercial value, their ease of capture and their vulnerability encourage their over-exploitation and therefore contribute to stocks depletion in many coastal areas.
Most illegal activities, the proposal noted, are fueled by international buyers who put pressure on local fishermen by offering high prices.
And gracing Cites for the first time, is the 'tall disturbing tale', a proposal by Kenya backed by Chad, Senegal, Niger, and Mali.
In the proposal, the countries want Cites to place giraffes under Appendix II for trade to be regulated. They note that the species are not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become victims if the trade continues.

Globally, giraffe numbers have plummeted from 140,000 in the late 1990s to less than 80,000 currently. In the past 30 years, the giraffe has become extinct in at least seven African countries.

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