Critical lapses in CITES compliance revealed as Southern African nations push for reopening of ivory trade

Tuesday, 5 June, 2007
The Hague, Netherlands
As delegates prepare to take on the issue of ivory trade - one of the more heated topics that has distracted CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) for years - a new IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - report details serious holes in the ability of Southern African countries to control and regulate trade in ivory into, out of and within their borders. The report, Trading Tusks: An Investigation into Elephant Management and Ivory Trade in Southern Africa, provides glaring evidence of the inability of key Southern African elephant range states pushing for relaxation in restrictions on ivory trade to implement CITES regulations. These countries have been assuring the international community that they have their houses in order, a contention that this report clearly and unambiguously refutes.
“Southern African countries’ ability to comply with CITES is not what they make it out to be,” says Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Southern Africa Regional Director and advocate for good conservation management practices and non-consumptive utilization.
The report points to Zimbabwe as being at the heart of the illegal ivory trade, with smuggling being made possible as a result of critical lapses in several Southern African nations’ ability to control illegal ivory trafficking.  Major routes for smuggling ivory include via the Beit Bridge border between Zimbabwe and South Africa; out of Zimbabwe via Mozambique and through Zambia to Tanzania; and out of Zimbabwe via the Chette Gorge, where boats have been used to move commercial sized quantities of ivory from Zimbabwe through Zambia and Tanzania to China.  Local reports also indicate that ivory is being shipped through the DRC. 
“Southern African countries are plagued by inadequate legislation and monitoring and are not in a position to implement CITES regulations effectively,” says Bell-Leask.  “Any relaxation in regulations on ivory trade would be pure folly given the levels of uncontrolled and uncontrollable trade.” 
Bell-Leask adds, “They are instead trying to confuse the debate by deflecting attention from their failures to enforce CITES to issues of elephant management and culling.  These are important issues, but only serve to confuse the ivory trade issue.” 
Kenya and Mali have submitted a proposal to CITES for a 20-year moratorium on all ivory, a proposal currently backed by 11 African elephant range states, as well as additional countries.
Over 26 tonnes of elephant ivory were seized between August 2005 and August 2006, which is the highest annual seizure rate witnessed since the 1989 CITES ban went into effect. In addition, enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 per cent of contraband slips through controls undetected. 

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