What is COP 19 and why are we attending?
This week, several representatives from David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) will be attending a hugely significant wildlife trade conference in Panama City. The Conference of the Parties (COP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will meet for the nineteenth time (COP 19). CITES is a multilateral treaty which has been established to protect endangered animals and plants from the threats of international trade. Between the 14-25th November 2022, 184 parties including 183 countries and the European Union will be meeting to discuss how the convention is being enforced and review how well species are being protected.
Without CITES there would be almost no international cooperation and regulation covering global wildlife trade. The process is far from perfect but the importance of CITES is without question. For DSWF, attending the conference is essential in making our voice heard on the importance of species protection, regulation and cooperation to tackle wildlife crime.
Increasing protection for elephants
One of our key priorities at COP 19 will be campaigning for greater protection for elephants. In 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Assessment estimated that over the last three generations, the African savanna elephant population has declined by 60% and the forest elephant population by 86%. This reduction in numbers is described as “continuing and likely irreversible”. Despite this, there are some who argue that protection for this iconic species should be reduced at CITES and international trade in ivory re-opened.
Under CITES, species are listed under three different appendices, each denoting a different level of protection from trade. Appendix 1 provides the most protection with trade for commercial purposes prohibited, whereas Appendix 2 provides a weaker level of protection.
Most elephants in Africa are listed under Appendix 1 but elephants in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana are listed under Appendix 2. This is inappropriate for a number of reasons, not least because they are a migratory species and 76% of Africa’s elephants are found in the transboundary populations of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. This leads to the absurd situation that the legal framework applicable to any elephant could change several times a day as it moves back and forth across borders.
Any opening up of the ivory trade will also stimulate global demand for ivory, exacerbating poaching and ivory trafficking. We will be supporting a proposal at COP 19 tabled by several African countries to include all elephants on Appendix 1, and we will oppose attempts by Zimbabwe and other parties who seek to weaken protection.
Closing domestic ivory markets
We will continue to campaign for the closure of all domestic ivory markets, including the one in Japan which is the biggest and most significant legal market that still remains open. Evidence indicates that Japan’s market controls are porous and enable illegal domestic ivory trade whilst also contributing to the illegal international trade.
Managing and reducing ivory stockpiles
We will also be engaging in a number of other key issues relating to elephants at COP 19. Ivory stockpiles around the world are growing, increasing the risk of the ivory being stolen and laundered back into the illegal trade. The presence of stockpiles also sends the message that future ivory sales are anticipated and that ivory retains a commercial value. Stockpiles are expensive to maintain, so we are supporting efforts to provide resources and capacity to ensure these are secured and disposed of where possible. We also encourage exploring other ways for elephant range states to dispose of their ivory in a non-commercial manner, whilst still accessing funding for conservation initiatives.
Stopping the barbaric live trade in elephants
We will work to limit the trade in African elephants to conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild, within the species’ natural and historic range. Wild caught African elephants are often exported to inhospitable and inappropriate places, such as the 22 elephants which have recently been traded by Namibia to zoos in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One poignant image from the UAE shows family groups huddled under scattered man-made umbrellas, seeking shade from the unbearable heat.
The process of capture and transport is extremely dangerous for the elephants, as all suffer from extreme distress, and many do not survive. Once they arrive in their captive environment, these highly social animals are entirely unsuited to the life that awaits them. The removal of elephants from the wild has profound impacts on the physical and social wellbeing of those taken but also for those left behind, as the removal of elephants from their social groups disrupts the dynamics of the wild herds.
Working together to fight wildlife crime
DSWF is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) partner of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) – a consortium of 32 elephant range states in East and West Africa. We will be working closely with the AEC at COP 19 on all of the issues described above.
In addition to campaigning for the protection of elephants, we will also be working closely with our partners in conservation to act on behalf of rhinos, pangolins, lions, and Asian big cats, as well as important enforcement related issues.