CITES has decided to keep ivory where it belongs: on the elephant. Image credit: I Love Trees/Flickr
112 tonnes of stockpiled ivory will stay off the international market following a decision not to allow a one-time sale by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Both Tanzania and Zambia had petitioned for special permission to hold the sale.
The two countries also asked that their elephants be moved from the strictly controlled Appendix I classification to the somewhat less stringent Appendix II.While many countries argue that ivory auctions help African governments raise the funds they need to maintain elephant conservation programs, this latest proposal was strongly opposed by scientists and the majority of other elephant-range nations. Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, explained:
The Parties have made it quite clear that there should be no trade in elephant ivory...any legal trade in elephant ivory incentivizes elephant poaching and illegal ivory sales. Intelligent elephant management dictates that the species be protected from trade in tusks. It's just that simple.
Ivory sales, though not without precedent, pose many other problems as well. In addition to fueling global demand for ivory—both legal and illegal—auctions flood the market with legal ivory, making it easier to sell the essentially identical products of poaching.
Since the last legal auction was held in 2008, conservationists report that instances of poaching and illegal trafficking have increased at a startling rate.
Image credit: wwarby/Flickr
Making Sense of the Appendices
In both Tanzania and Zambia, elephants are protected under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits the trade of wild-caught specimens completely.
Under Appendix II, specimens can be exported, but such trade is restricted by a tightly-controlled permitting process. While Appendix I classification is reserved for plants and animals under considerable threat of extinction, Appendix II classification is extended to more than 32,000 species that are not necessarily threatened but could easily become so.
Some species, like the African elephant, are split-listed: classified as Appendix I species in some countries, Appendix II in others.
The Request for Downlisting
Perhaps sensing the strong opposition to another ivory auction, both Tanzania and Zambia attempted to separate that proposal from their request to downlist elephants. Zambia withdrew its proposal for an ivory auction early in the meeting, while Tanzania split its request into two different agenda items.
In spite of these efforts, the countries failed to get the two-thirds majority they needed to downlist their elephants.
Though data was presented showing elephant populations in Tanzania and Zambia were increasing, even stabilizing, these numbers were widely contested by conservationists. Furthermore, forensic analysis indicates that much of the more than 20 tonnes of illegal elephant ivory seized in 2009 originated in Tanzania.
Downlisting would have sent a horrible message to poachers and criminal syndicates Africa...I am relieved that Zambia's revised proposal did not succeed, and this view is shared by the majority of African elephant range states.
Still, around the world, demand for ivory continues to grow and in Africa, poaching is more prevalent than ever. Central Africa, in particular, the situation is, as WWF described it, "grim"—with heavily armed poachers taking dozens of elephants every year.
While this latest CITES ruling is a small victory for elephant conservation in Africa, the fight to preserve this iconic species is long from over.
Read more about elephants:
Scientists Protest Proposed Ivory Auction
Illegal Ivory Trade on the Rise as Organized Crime Syndicates in Africa, Asia Grow in Strength
CSI Wildlife: DNA Forensics Used to Prevent Elephant Poaching