IUCN has urged a more holistic approach to elephant conservation at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in Doha, Qatar. During opening statements prior to discussing any specific elephant proposals at the conference, IUCN had the opportunity to urge Parties to rise above divisive and distracting stalemates in favour of more decisive action on the known problems facing African elephants in many parts of their range. Parties warmly welcomed IUCN’s thoughts.
“Although we currently do not have unequivocal answers to all the questions, it’s true to say that we do now, through trade monitoring processes, have a greatly improved understanding of the current situation on the ground, the ivory trade dynamics facing the species across its range and the market drivers behind this trade,” says Dr. Holly Dublin, Chair of IUCN's African Elephant Specialist Group.
On Monday, proposals put forward by Zambia and Tanzania to relax trade regulations on their elephant populations and to stage one-off sales of government held stockpiles of ivory were rejected by Parties at CITES.
Elephants in the two countries have been listed on Appendix I since 1989, which bans all international commercial trade in the animals and their products, which for elephants includes hunting trophies, hides and most notably ivory. Since that time, elephant populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) have been moved to Appendix II which allows for regulated trade in elephants and products such as ivory, pending further agreement by Conferences of the Parties to CITES regarding specifics of products and amounts, as well as demonstration that they have effective elephant conservation programmes. The last legal sale of stockpiled ivory took place in late 2008 in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
At this meeting, Zambia and Tanzania wanted to downlist their national populations of elephants to Appendix II and join the other four southern African countries with downlisted elephant populations. In addition, they requested permission to hold one-off sales of specified amounts of government-held ivory stockpiles, excluding seized ivory and ivory of unknown origin. During a prolonged debate, and despite both countries proposing amendments to the proposals to remove the requests for one-off ivory sales, both proposals were rejected. However, the vote on the Zambian proposal was extremely close, and Zambia may seek to re-open the issue during the final plenary sessions of the conference.
A third proposal, tabled by seven African countries, Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, asked for an expansion of an existing nine-year moratorium on ivory sales for the four countries with Appendix II elephants to a 20-year moratorium on both ivory sales and downlisting proposals for all African elephant range states. After discussion and, again, despite tabling of proposed amendments, this proposal was also rejected.
The debates around these elephant proposals highlighted a strong divide within Africa on the best ways to manage and conserve elephants on the continent.
To read IUCN's full statement on the issue, click here