First name Last Name Will Travers

For Immediate Release:

2 Oct 2006

Fate of Africa’s Fragile Elephant Population Again on CITES Agenda

Geneva, Switzerland—The 54th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) opens today in Geneva, where government officials from across the globe will decide the fate of numerous threatened or endangered species that are affected by international trade. Among the most contentious discussions is the reopening of trade in African elephant ivory

This Standing Committee meeting will consider whether to allow the sale of some 60 tonnes of African elephant ivory that was tentatively approved in 2002, subject to a variety of specific conditions being met. “We remain seriously concerned that the basic conditions for resuming trade in ivory have not been met,” warned SSN President Will Travers, “and that the reopening of ivory exports sends a dangerous message to poachers and illegal ivory dealers that an unfettered international ivory trade has resumed.”

In order for limited sales to commence, CITES Parties insisted that a new field-based programme called “MIKE” (Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants) must report baseline information on the levels of illegal killing of elephants, and that potential ivory importers such as China or Japan are verified to have sufficient internal controls in place to prevent illegal ivory sales and exports. “The conditions set forth by CITES Parties have not been met in our opinion, and it would, therefore, be irresponsible to risk worsening an already serious situation by giving a green light to more ivory sales,” Travers continued.

CITES established an international ivory trade ban in 1989 after ivory poachers decimated the African elephant population by more than 50 percent in the 1970s and 80s, reducing the continental population from 1.3 million to 600,000. Between 1989 and 1997 elephant poaching slowed significantly. However, in 1997 CITES Parties for the first time approved a one-off (experimental) export of ivory from three African elephant range States to Japan. Since then, an increase in seizures of illegal ivory has been documented indicating renewed demand. In 2002, CITES again approved a limited sale of ivory, but made sale conditional on the provision of MIKE data on continental trends in elephant poaching.

The MIKE programme has now for the first time submitted baseline data, but SSN questions the quality and usefulness of that data. Shelley Waterland of the Born Free Foundation and Chair of the SSN Elephant Working Group expressed concern that given the “recent large seizures involving many tonnes of smuggled ivory, it is highly inappropriate to be releasing a further 60 tonnes of ivory into the market at this time.” Waterland’s recent research on behalf of the Working Group shows that, since 1998, there have been seizures of 151 tonnes of illegal ivory, representing 24,380 poached elephants. “This is only the tip of the tusk; most smuggling is undetected,” she added.

Other major issues pending before the Committee that could stimulate serious controversy include conservation of tigers, rhinos, great apes, and protection of tropical timber species such as bigleaf mahogany. Standing Committee members are in a position this week to stop the unsustainable and illegal trade in mahogany, particularly from Peru. It is estimated that 70-95% of all bigleaf mahogany in Peru is taken illegally—much of it logged from protected areas and indigenous territories. The major importers are the USA and the Dominican Republic, followed by the European Union. Over-exploitation has already led to commercial extinction of the species in several countries and a logging ban in some nations. In Peru, the range of Bigleaf Mahogany has shrunk by 50%, and, within a decade, a further 28% will be logged out if no effective steps are taken.

SSN and the Born Free Foundation’s Ivory Trade Report

SSN’s Recommendations to the 54th Meeting of
the CITES Standing Committee

SSN comments on SC54 Doc. 26. (Rev.1) on
MIKE Baseline Information

Preliminary Comments on SC54 Doc. 6.1,
The CITES Strategic Plan: 2008-2013