Elephants get 9 year break!
“We are encouraged by these countries’ willingness to cooperate on the very important issue of elephant conservation, and congratulate Kenya and Mali for their leadership role in stewarding the process forward,” said Peter Pueschel, Head of the Wildlife Trade program with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare; www.ifaw.org). “This is a clear win for elephants and the conservation efforts of all of the range states.”
IFAW, who supported Kenya and Mali’s original proposal for a 20-year ban, applauds the acceptance of an official, long-term suspension of trade in ivory, however is somewhat cautious over a provision that would release additional stockpiles of ivory above the 60 tonne cache approved by the Standing Committee last week. “This is not the ideal situation,” says Michael Wamithi, Elephant Program Manager with IFAW. “We believe that any amount of ivory in the market serves as a trigger mechanism for increased poaching and we are therefore concerned about the strain that these additional sales will put on range states’ already stressed enforcement capacities.”
“Today’s agreement provides Africans with nine solid years to find better solutions for elephant conservation,” he added.
Range states also agreed to work together on the joint issue of elephant conservation, including the development of an overall African Elephant Action Plan for improved elephant management, including strengthened enforcement mechanisms and improved controls of trade in ivory.
Kenya and Mali originally submitted a joint proposal for a 20 year suspension of trade in ivory, a proposal that was officially backed by Ghana, Togo, Chad, Southern Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and Congo Brazzaville, as well as a significant number of African and Asian elephant range countries concerned over the impact that a renewal in ivory trade would have on their countries’ elephant populations, on their governments’ capacities to effectively police their ranges against poaching, and their ability to intercept contraband ivory and ivory products smuggled across their borders.
Southern African range states, including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, have been lobbying for a lifting of the ban on ivory trade, a move that would have secured significant benefits to these few countries at the expense of the majority of other elephant range states. There are 28 elephant range states in Africa and an additional 9 range states in Asia, all affected by the decisions taken at this convention.
Representatives of the African range states participated in a series of intense negotiations throughout the two-week conference. “We are delighted and proud that many of our original concerns were addressed and adopted in the final compromise decision and look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue with our neighbors to the south,” said Patricia Awori, Advisor in the Kenya delegation.
At least 20,000 elephants are killed annually for their ivory and the lives of about 100 rangers are lost each year protecting them. The impact is not only felt in Africa; among the population of 35,000 to 45,000 Asian elephants, only a mere 1,200 tusked males remain.
International trade in ivory was banned by CITES in 1989 to counter the precipitous decline in elephant populations targeted for their tusks. Ever since that time, pro trade nations have been lobbying to reopen trade in ivory. But many African countries, including elephant range states in East and Central Africa, remain firmly opposed to reopening ivory trade, as any legalization drives demand, provides incentives for increased poaching and fuels crime.
Over 26 metric tonnes (28.7 tons) of illegal ivory were seized between August 2006 and 2007, the last time period for which complete seizure information is available and a three-fold increase from the total amount seized in the previous three years combined.