- A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would have allowed them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected by 101 votes to 23 at the CITES wildlife trade summit taking place in Geneva.
- Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa are placed in Appendix II of CITES, which allows commercial trade in registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits in place.
- But such sales are severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II, which Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe's proposal sought to amend.
- Several other African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the one-off sales permitted under the annotation in 1997 and 2008 had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy, negating the argument that flooding the market with legal ivory would drown out the illegal trade.
A proposal by Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia that would allow them to sell their ivory stockpiles has been rejected at the ongoing summit of the global wildlife trade body.
Countries meeting in Geneva for the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted 101 to 23 to reject the proposal.
All African elephants (Loxodonta spp.) have been listed on Appendix I of CITES since 1989. This prohibits the global commercial trade in the animals and their products. Populations of elephants in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa were eventually moved to Appendix II, allowing certain commercial trade in elephant products, including that of registered government-owned ivory stocks, with the necessary CITES permits and checks in place. The sale of ivory stocks, however, is severely restricted by a legally binding annotation to Appendix II. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe’s proposal sought to amend the annotation to create more opportunities for them to trade ivory internationally for commercial purposes.
“The decisions today by the Parties at CITES CoP18 mean it’s status quo for elephants: No international commercial ivory trade is permitted and that is what needs to happen,” Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), said in a statement. “CITES Parties agreed not to open any ivory trade, and to further call on governments to close their domestic ivory markets. We thank the CITES CoP18 Parties for not weakening their policies concerning elephant ivory. All Ivory trade must end if the African elephant is to recover.”
Under the Appendix II listing, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were allowed to sell agreed-upon quantities of registered government-owned ivory stocks in two one-off sales: once in 1999 to Japan, and a second time to Japan and China in 2008. The annotation, however, placed a moratorium on further commercial ivory sales by the four countries until 2017.
At CoP17 in South Africa in 2016, Zimbabwe and Namibia submitted proposals seeking to delete the entire annotation to the Appendix II listing for their countries. This time around, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe proposed eliminating sections of the annotation that specify which stockpiles can be traded, as well as the stay on future sales.
Several African countries opposed the proposal, saying that the 1999 and 2008 experiments had failed and sparked a poaching frenzy.
A study published in 2016 reached the same conclusion. The one-time legal sale in 2008 was based on the idea that flooding markets with legal ivory would reduce the demand for illegal products. However, researchers found that the legal sale was followed by a dramatic rise in ivory smuggling and elephant deaths. This rise in black market ivory production could have been triggered by both increasing consumer demand and the reduced cost of supplying black market ivory, the researchers posited.
“Poaching skyrocketed across Africa after the last ivory stockpile sales back in 2008,” Matt Collis, director of international policy at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and head of IFAW’s delegation at CITES, said in a statement. “IFAW is delighted governments at CITES have chosen to reject repeating that failed experiment. Any legal market in ivory presents opportunities for the laundering of illegal ivory. We have yet to see any evidence that legal ivory trade is being adequately controlled to prevent this happening.”
A counterproposal by Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria and Togo sought to transfer all elephant populations to Appendix I, offering them the highest protection. That proposal was defeated, 67 votes to 51, the Guardian reported.
Banner image of African elephants by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.