Conservation news

CITES proposals by African countries aim to end the ivory trade

Twenty-nine African countries are hoping to put an end to the ivory trade through a series of proposals to CITES that would grant African elephants the highest protections under international law.

Of the 29 countries in the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), 25 are key African elephant range states. Five proposals were submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in late April by AEC countries in response to the poaching crisis facing African elephants over the last decade. As many as 100,000 elephants are believed to have been killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012, during the height of the crisis, many in AEC countries.

The proposals submitted by AEC countries to be considered at the 17th Conference of the Parties of CITES in Johannesburg, South Africa later this year include listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I, closing domestic ivory markets, destroying ivory stockpiles, and restricting the export of live, wild African elephants only to conservation projects in their natural habitat, among other measures.

Together, these proposals are designed to end the ivory trade once and for all.

An African elephant. Photo by David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

“The crisis facing the African elephant is still very real, and calls for a global unity of purpose,” Dr. Andrew Seguya, executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, said in a statement. “It is critically important that CITES takes decisive action to ban international and domestic trade in ivory to save elephants from imminent extinction. We are making a collective stand for the long-term survival of elephants throughout Africa and calling on the world to stand with us.”

CITES member countries agreed in 1989 to ban the international trade in ivory, which initially led to an overall increase in the population of African elephants. But due to unregulated domestic ivory markets, some of the 37 countries in Africa where elephants occur have continued to lose substantial numbers. There are approximately 470,000 African elephants left in the wild, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, but 8 percent of the total population is lost to poaching every year.

The majority of poached ivory winds up in China, where it can sell for as much as $1,000 per pound. Though China has stepped up its efforts to stem the illegal ivory trade, Hong Kong continues to allow domestic sales of ivory stockpiled prior to the 1989 ban. However, Hong Kong’s system for keeping track of its “legal” ivory is so full of loopholes that the stockpile is regularly replenished with illegal ivory from recently poached African elephants, according to reports.

Ivory about to be burned in Kenya in April. 15 tonnes of elephant tusks were burned on World Wildlife Day to discourage ivory trade. Photo by Roz Reeve.

“Our elephants are dying every day to meet the insatiable appetite of the ivory trade,” Patrick Omondi, deputy director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “We are appealing for support in our mission to end the trade and for the world to join us in spreading the message that elephants are worth more alive than dead.”

The AEC has launched a campaign using the hashtags #WorthMoreAlive and #EndIvoryTrade to build support for the five CITES proposals among other member countries.

“A global, permanent ban on ivory trade is the only way to ensure the protection of elephants,” Vera Weber, President of the Swiss-based Fondation Franz Weber, a partner organization of the AEC that facilitated a meeting in Montreux, Switzerland this past weekend at which AEC countries consolidated their position on the proposals, said in a statement.

“African countries in the AEC, which are losing their elephants to poachers every day, are blazing the trail to shut down the global ivory market and put an end to this senseless killing forever.”