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Conservation groups kicked out of CITES debate on elephants

The Standing Committee of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) tossed conservations NGOs out of the room during a debate on the rise in elephant poaching for illegal ivory. A vote of seven to six sent conservation groups making up the Species Survival Network (SSN) packing, however the groups were allowed back in before the day was over.

“This is a major step backwards for CITES. Civil society organizations have a right to be present in these discussions, not least of all because some of them, including WWF, are donors to the work of CITES on elephants,” said Colman O’Criodain, World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst, in a press release. WWF and some 80 other NGOs comprise the SSN, which is committed to strengthening CITES protections.

The vote was proposed by Kuwait. Botswana, Iran, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica and Norway all voted in favor of sending the SSN away. On the other side Australia, Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ukraine, the UK and the US opposed the measure.

“I am almost lost for words. This is a terrible precedent and jeopardizes the effective conservation of not only elephants but potentially many other species if we are prevented from participating in other debates,” said Will Travers, President of the SSN and CEO of Born Free USA and the Born Free Foundation. Groups warned that this set a dangerous precedence against transparency.

Elephant poaching has been on the rise recently, especially in Central Africa. Most fingers are pointed at China as the driver behind the poaching. According to a recent study conducted by the NGO Elephant Family, ivory items for sale in Southern China have doubled since 2004. The study found that 63 percent of the ivory in the markets they visited was obtained illegally, providing further evidence that efforts to manage the trade have failed.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, while Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are listed as Endangered. However, scientists have recently suggested that Africa has an additional elephants species: the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), which inhabits the Congo rainforest. This elephant is smaller than its savanna cousin and sports straighter tusks. It is also likely more endangered due to poaching.

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