No on split-listing: Give elephants equal protections across Africa

Split listing, protecting elephants at one level in one place and another level elsewhere, has inherent problems.  If you cross this river, your ivory will be worth more than your life!

Try telling this to an elephant who is about to cross the national border into a country where his life is at risk just because that government sees big dollar signs on his tusks. 

Don’t buy this ivory at a lower price. Buy that one because that one is legal.

Try telling this to an Asian consumer who wants to wear an ivory bracelet to join her friends in the chic obsession over “white gold.”

These statements represent rhetorical scenarios at the heart of several proposals that will be debated later this month in South Africa at the conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

To elephants, these scenarios are only too real, ever since the African elephant populations in a few countries were down-graded in 1997 from the higher protection status—Appendix I at CITES to Appendix II, creating what’s called a split-listing of elephant populations from different countries.

Split listing, protecting animals at one level in one place and another level elsewhere, has inherent problems.  

Elephants don’t recognize political borders. Elephants that migrate into the countries where they have less protection have a premium put on their tusks. They are forced to pay for their very existence with ivory. The policy makers in those countries could ask CITES to allow them to put ivory from their elephants onto international markets. Having their elephants on Appendix II made it much easier for these countries—Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa—to get CITES approval to trade ivory internationally.

They have already done so twice in the past 16 years.

Two CITES approved “one-off” ivory sales broke the integrity of the international ivory trade ban, and brought catastrophic consequences for elephants.

The ivory sales (1999 to Japan and 2009 to China and Japan) from those countries with elephants on Appendix II, especially the second sale in 2009, was the chief culprit for an abrupt, significant, permanent, robust and geographically widespread increase in the production of ivory through elephant poaching, as a new study found

The legal ivory trade supplied by the CITES-approved sales confused consumers and stimulated demand. People who previously had no desire for ivory watched as ivory possession all of a sudden became the trend and a status symbol.

READ: Celebrating successful year of ivory bans to protect elephants

I believe a majority of the consumers are law abiding. If the laws prohibit ivory trade, most of them will not actively seek out an illegal substance to purchase. 

However, a majority of the consumers took market availability of ivory for the legality of trade. They cannot distinguish which country the ivory comes from, whether it comes from legal or illegal sources. They bought ivory trinkets at the lowest price, helping wildlife criminals (illegal traders and smugglers) in making a killing from the illicit trade.

The increased demand in Asia stimulated by the sales of ivory from the countries with elephants on Appendix II pushed up ivory prices and fueled elephant poaching across the African continent.

While elephants don’t recognize political borders, poachers and smugglers do.

Countries plagued by instability, poverty, corruption, and conflict are the criminal syndicate’s favored targets because elephants in these countries are the most vulnerable. New research recently found that forest elephants, whose population had declined by 60 percent since 2002, are closer to extinction than scientists had originally thought. Continental wide, elephant populations are found to be lower than what we had feared.

  • That’s why IFAW supports Proposal 16 by both African and Asian countries to transfer all African elephants from Appendix II to Appendix I.
  • IFAW supports Doc. 57.2 by ten African elephant range states to close all domestic ivory markets.  
  • IFAW strongly opposes Proposal 14 and Proposal 15 to allow possible removal of obstacles paving the way for more international ivory trade.

Elephants are the heritage of world. The global community has to all pull our own weight.  

We cannot just leave the fight of saving elephants to the African countries!

Please ask your government to give elephants across African continent equal protection from the menace of ivory trade.

Elephants’ survival depends on our action!


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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