Over 110,000 elephants have been killed in the last decade, following a steep rise in poaching, with one killed for its ivory every 15 minutes according to iworry, a campaign by conservation organisation The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Despite the critical situation for the species, the 182 member countries of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were unable to agree on a proposal for further protection.
The proposal, submitted by 29 members making up the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) – including Kenya, Uganda and Gabon – called for all elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to be up-listed to Appendix I, thus providing all African elephants full protection.
Initially the discussions looked promising, as in an unexpected turn of events Botswana – which had previously argued against up-listing African elephants – had a change of heart and supported the AEC. A delegate from Botswana said, ‘Poaching is so intense that... although Botswana has previously supported the limited, legal ivory sales from countries that manage their elephant herds sustainably, we now recognise that we can no longer support these sales... [we] now support a total, unambiguous and permanent international ban on the ivory trade.’
“The European Union’s position is shocking. Its patronising and colonialist attitude to the vast majority of African elephant range states calling for an Appendix I listing is shameful”
Conservation organisation World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), however, opposed the up-listing arguing it could increase trade in ivory. ‘These proposals would [not] have offered elephant populations any greater protection from the poachers. Indeed, the proposal to up-list four southern African populations to Appendix I could well have opened a back door to illegal international trade,’ said Ginette Hemley, WWF Head of Delegation for CITES.
Despite arguments coming from the majority of elephant range states, the proposal failed as 44 states opposed the motion, including South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and the EU, which voted as a block gaining 28 votes at once.
It was the EU’s vote that swung it, according to Dr Rosalind Reeve, senior advisor to Fondation Franz Weber and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation: ‘The numbers are clear. If the EU had supported the proposal by the African Elephant Coalition, now also supported by Botswana, the Appendix I listing would have gone through. The blood of Africa’s elephants is on the EU’s hands.’
The EU’s vote against the majority of African countries caused fury among many. ‘The European Union’s position is shocking,’ said Vera Weber, President of Fondation Franz Weber. ‘Its patronising and colonialist attitude to the vast majority of African elephant range states calling for an Appendix I listing is shameful. Even Botswana has come out in favour of an up-listing to Appendix I and still, it does not listen.’
It was not a complete loss for elephants though. Proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe to open up legal ivory trade in their countries also failed, and a decision was passed on Sunday by CITES recommending that countries ‘close their domestic markets for commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of urgency.’