World Elephant Day: EU urged to back total ban on ivory trade

The EU has been accused of putting elephants in a "precarious situation" and has been urged to back proposals for a total ban on ivory trade.

Elephants. Photo credit: International Fund for Animal Welfare

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Aug 2016

The demand by Humane Society International (HIS) comes on Friday, which has been designated "World Elephant Day."

To mark the occasion, HIS, a leading animal charity, asked, “How many more such days are left before these magnificent animals are extinct in the wild unless the global poaching crisis is brought under control?”

HIS says elephants face a major poaching crisis but, in the midst of the "crisis", three southern African countries - South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia - are proposing to open up legal trade in ivory.


The three countries' proposals will go to the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which meets from 24 September- 5 October.

Their proposals, say HIS, seek to legalise the international commercial trade in ivory, “disregard” the precarious survival of the African elephant and "undermine" the global effort to combat wildlife crime and reduce demand for ivory.

The plans by the three African states are opposed by a 29 country-strong African Elephant Coalition (AEC), which represents 70 per cent of the African elephant range States, who are advocating for the highest level of protection possible for elephants.

AEC has put forward a suite of five proposals with the aim of halting the commercial trade of all African elephant ivory and limiting the trade in live African elephant to for in situ conservation programs.

A HIS spokesperson said, “History shows that legalising ivory trade would risk a runaway expansion of the ivory trade and incentivise poaching and trafficking. CITES authorised two, one-off ivory stockpile sales in 1999 (to Japan) and 2008 (to Japan and China), which had disastrous consequences for elephants.

“The 2008 one-off sales had a direct impact on the supply of illegal ivory and induced ivory trafficking, with a 66 per cent increase in illegal ivory production and 71 per cent increase in seizures of smuggled ivory.”

Currently, the elephant populations in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are on what is called “Appendix II” listing, while the populations in the rest of the African continent are on “Appendix I.”

The “Appendix II” list includes an annotation that imposes a temporary moratorium on submission of proposals to open the ivory trade, but that moratorium expires in November 2017.

HIS says that transferring the “Appendix II” elephant populations to “Appendix I” would give “unified protections” to all populations and also accurately reflect the science that elephants are migratory, transboundary species.

The spokesman said, “For instance, 60 per cent of Namibia’s elephants are in the north eastern part of the country where elephants move freely between Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Zambia with the latter two on Appendix I listing.

“A split-listing also sends the wrong message that African elephants are not under threat when in fact, elephant poaching is on the rise in the Appendix II-listed countries.”

In a recent position paper, the European Commission stated its opposition to the African Elephant Coalition’s proposals to afford “Appendix 1” protection.

The EU is now accused of opposing a comprehensive global ban in the trade in illegal ivory.

The HIS spokesperson said, “Unbelievably, the EU argued that the elephant populations of Namibia, Botswana, Angola and Zambia don’t meet the criteria for transfer to Appendix I, and closing domestic ivory markets is unjustified.”

Further comment came from Wendy Higgins, of Humane Society International/UK, who said: “Right now, the EU’s position puts elephants in an even more precarious situation. If the EU’s position doesn’t change, it could be a death sentence for elephants.”

Higgins added, “The vast majority of the African elephant’s range states want to see these animals given the highest level of protection, and it is astonishing that the EU is standing in the way of that at this moment.”

She added, “The EU holds the key to the future survival of these elephants, so we hope that as discussions continue, it reaches a common position that better reflects their urgent need for protection.

“This World Elephant Day we need to ask ourselves, how many more such days are left before these magnificent animals are extinct in the wild unless the global poaching crisis is brought under control by CITES and world governments?”



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