CITES – Week One for Elephants

A quick summary of CITES:

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation  is currently attending the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to CITES, an international conference which regulates the trade of endangered species. It’s been a full and controversial agenda over the last seven days for elephants and other flora and fauna, but the team have been fighting day and night to help influence policy and safeguard the lives of the species we work to protect.

CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and was established to regulate the trade of endangered flora and fauna by subjecting individual species certain levels of control. These controls are represented under three appendices which can be found here.

Elephants currently sit across two appendices in what is called a ‘split-listing’. This Is something which is not encouraged by the Convention and advocated strongly against by many conservation organisations for such a migratory and transboundary species such as elephants.  DSWF, in support of the large majority of African elephant range states, believe that elephants and the impacts of trade on wild populations should be assessed across a continental basis and not in isolation.  The countries of Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia currently have ‘their’ elephant populations listed in a lower and less stringent category of protection and are fighting to re-open the trade in ivory and sell ivory stockpiles. Zambia is also wanting to join this group of Southern African countries. As we and many other conservationists and biologists advocate, how can a convention which is set up to supposedly protect species from the impacts of trade justify a system which allows an elephant who can migrate across borders in so many instances different levels of protection.  In the space of a day an elephant from say Namibia can find itself in Angola by the afternoon and suffer the consequences.  It’s a system which should be rejected and reformed to reflect the trans-boundary nature of elephant moments.

Elephants at CITES are always a hugely controversial species which result in highly contentious debates and often polar-opposite views over the best way to ensure their survival.  A number of elephant related proposals were submitted and tabled for discussion last week from both sides of the debate which we have summarised below:

Live Trade – 18th August:

Summary: The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), a group of more than 30 African countries, submitted a proposal to CITES CoP18 which would restrict the export of live elephants from Africa. The proposal suggested changing the wording of the convention to restrict the live trade of elephants from Africa to “in situ conservation programmes in their natural habitat only”, therefore preventing international export to unnatural locations. If adopted by the Parties this wording would stop the brutal trade of wild caught elephants which are ripped from their herds to supply zoo’s, circuses and entertainment facilities across the world.

Outcome:  In a historic vote, the Conference of the Parties voted in favour of the AEC’s proposal which would stop the brutal trade of live elephants and limit translocations to their natural range only! This is a momentous victory for elephants and those, including the Foundation, who have been fighting to achieve this!  This proposal puts the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of elephants before financial and human benefit.

As one non-elephant range state supported on the wider issue of what is an ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ all animals should have the right to ‘freedom from pain’ especially when the brutal trade in live elephants was linked to that of animal slavery.

However the victory is not yet secure. The EU and the USA (who both opposed the original decision) have voiced their intention to reopen discussions later this week to try and overturn the outcome. DSWF are working hard to make sure that these discussions are not reopened, and that this historic decision still stands!

Domestic Ivory Markets – 21st August:

Summary: Several African countries submitted a proposal to CITES CoP18 urging all parties to close their domestic ivory markets as a matter of urgency. The current wording only calls on those countries whose markets ‘contribute to poaching’ to close their markets which creates loopholes and leaves the definition up to the Parties themselves. The document which was submitted called on ALL parties (notably Japan and the EU) to close their markets as a matter of urgency.

Outcome: During the debate, many countries spoke in favour of closing domestic ivory markets, including India and Angola. However, several countries also opposed it due to issues of national sovereignty. On the floor, the USA and Canada proposed a compromise that was adopted, shifted the burden of proof. The compromise stated that all countries with legal markets for ‘worked’ or raw ivory would report back to CITES on what measures they are taking to guarantee their markets aren’t contributing to poaching or illegal trade.

Stocks and Stockpiles – 21stAugust:

Summary: At the 65thStanding Committee (SC65) in 2014, Chad and the Philippines submitted a proposal concerning the management and destruction of ivory stockpiles. These stocks present considerable enforcement and financial burdens and often result in theft and leakage of ivory into the illegal trade. At CoP17, the Secretariat was directed to provide practical guidance on stockpile management.

During CoP18, the AEC submitted a document proposing a way forward to finalise and adopt the delayed guidance including measures to strengthen reporting and directed the Secretariat to publish data on regional levels of stocks and identify parties who fail to submit reports for further action.

Outcome: During discussions on the floor, the CoP agreed to adopt amended language to the CITES text which would maintain an inventory of government stockpiles (including those privately held where possible) and inform the Secretariat on the levels of these stockpiles. Whilst we were disappointed at the delays in producing and disseminating draft guidelines on stockpile management and disposal, as prepared by TRAFFIC, which were shared only a day before the debate was tabled and too late for a full analysis we were pleased to see in the draft guidelines language around the need for compliance measure for those parties who fail to evidence competent systems of control.

DSWF were very pleased the AEC document was adopted as it will continue to limit the leakage of ivory stocks into the illegal trade and further protect elephants in the wild.

Zambia: Proposal to downlist their population and re-open the trade in ivory – 22nd August:

Summary: Zambia submitted a proposal to CITES CoP18 requesting a downlisting of their elephant populations from Appendix I to Appendix II (subject to certain criteria). The proposal claimed that Zambia’s elephant populations meet the biological criteria for Appendix II, something that DSWF and many others firmly dispute.

Outcome: After a lengthy and heated debate with no consensus, Zambia proposed an amendment to their proposal on the floor. The amendment would allow Zambia to downlist their elephant populations from Appendix II to I. However, the downlisting would prevent Zambia from selling ivory. Two votes were taken, the first on the proposed amendment, the second on the original proposal. DSWF were pleased to see both votes overwhelmingly rejected safeguarding the lives of elephants in a country where poaching is rife and unmanageable.  The rejection of this proposal sends a clear message to the world that elephants are not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder when populations are still vulnerable and at risk from extinction.

Southern African ivory trade Proposal – 22nd August:

Summary: The elephant populations of Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are all on Appendix II. However, when the controversial decision was made to downlist their populations in 1997 and 2000, an annotation was included to restrict ivory trade as part of a compromise deal including two ‘one-off’ ivory stockpile sales to Asia. This proposal to CITES CoP18 requested Parties to remove the annotation and allow the trade in ivory from these populations.

Outcome: After another controversial debate on the floor, in which Botswana shockingly said ‘‘We cannot be a good zoo and not be paid to be a good zoo keeper’ the Chair called parties to vote on the removal of the above-mentioned annotation and allow the trade of ivory. DSWF and many others were delighted to see the request rejected by a large majority of Parties.

When elephant populations across the continent are suffering from huge poaching losses and an ever-growing illegal trade, now is not the time to re-open the international trade in ivory, stimulate markets and send a message that elephants are safe.  Everything must be done to secure elephant populations across Africa, not simply isolated populations, and ensure all elephants are given the highest protection possible to aid their recovery. This proposal would have undermined efforts and put the species at further risk from extinction.

Ensuring all African elephants on Appendix I– 22nd August:

Summary: This proposal was submitted by the AEC and urged the Conference of the Parties to agree to a continental Appendix I listing for all African Elephant as the only way to ensure their survival. The only countries that remain on Appendix II are Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. DSWF were hugely supportive of this proposal as it would prohibit the trade of ivory, reduce consumer demand and protect elephants in the wild, granting them the highest level of protection possible.

Outcome: Unfortunately, due to unfair and mis-managed time constraints, discussions on this topic only lasted twenty minutes compared to the above trade proposals which were granted over 2 hours with many protectionist countries denied the opportunity to speak on the floor. Far too quickly the proposal went to a vote and was sadly rejected by parties meaning that the elephant populations of the four mentioned countries will remain on Appendix II. Notably China supported this vote to further protect African elephants.

The week ahead:

CITES CoP18 will reopen after a two-day rest on Sunday with Rhino listing and trade proposals coming up first. Although many topics have been discussed, we are expecting another jam-packed week. If the EU reopen the debate on live trade, DSWF will continue to fight to hold the decision made last week to ban the trade, uaranteeing a life without stress and pain for elephants. We are also expecting some heated debates on trade related to rhinos, pangolins and Asian big cats.

Stay tuned on the DSWF website and social media pages for live updates on our work to protect species.

The work done around international policy and legislation is imperative if we are to give endangered and vulnerable species a chance to recover and thrive.  Please support our urgent fight for greater protectionist policies for wildlife by clicking the link below.