NAIROBI, KENYA -- After heated debate delegates at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, Qatar, rejected proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to "downlist" their elephant populations from the endangered species category of Appendix I to Appendix II and allow each country to hold a one-time sale and export of existing government-owned stock of ivory obtained from elephants that died naturally or through problem-animal control.
Ahead of the Doha meetings, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) had recommended that these proposals be rejected as there is credible evidence of significant flows of illegal ivory from and through these countries and insufficient independent verification that all conditions for downlisting had been met. The decisions taken at CITES are completely consistent with the recommendations made by AWF before the conference given the best objectively verifiable information.
"We believe these decisions are in the best interest of Africa's elephants and commend the CITES delegates for carefully considering the evidence. The time and conditions are not right to resume ivory trade," says Philip Muruthi, AWF's Senior Director of Conservation Science.
Also in line with AWF recommendations, the delegates rejected a proposal by Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone calling for CITES to impose a 20-year resting period on requests to sell ivory. In issuing its decision, CITES upheld a nine-year resting period for new proposals to sell ivory as established at its last meeting in 2007.
"AWF believes that the spirit of the nine-year moratorium agreement established at the last CITES meeting is sufficient to allow all range states and parties to assess the impact of the 2008 sales," says Muruthi.
While no causal relationship has been established, there is ample evidence that the illegal killing of elephants has risen significantly since the sales were approved.
According to Panel of Experts appointed by CITES to assess Tanzania's proposal, Tanzania lost more than 30,000 of its approximately 140,000 elephants between 2006 and 2009, most of them to poaching for ivory. Many of the large ivory hauls seized in Asia in 2009 have also been traced back to the East African nation.
Zambia, which has a more modest population of about 26,000 elephants, had received a less critical review of its elephant management activities over the past four years. Although there is evidence that criminal ivory syndicates have an active presence in Zambia, the country's total elephant population is stable and viable because of improved anti-poaching patrols and stronger enforcement, the CITES Panel of Experts say. The exception is in the Lower Zambezi region, where poaching as well as high levels of human-elephant conflict are taking a heavy toll.
"The rise in elephant killings after the important gains seen since the ivory trade was banned is a wakeup call," says Muruthi. "AWF is doing all it can to fight this disturbing development."
Since CITES banned the sale of ivory in 1989, elephant populations across Africa have recovered unevenly, with populations in some countries rebounding rapidly while those in others are still struggling to bounce back from near decimation. Loss of land and habitat fragmentation are two of the greatest threats to the iconic pachyderms, which need vast areas to feed and thrive.
Through its Africa Heartland Program, AWF works to combine parks, private lands and community areas into large conservation landscapes that give elephants and other wildlife the room they need to thrive.
"AWF believes that carrying out large-landscape conservation while simultaneously addressing trade issue is the soundest strategy for securing the future of Africa's magnificent elephants across the continent," says Muruthi.
Download AWF's full position statement leading into the Doha meetings.
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