First name Last Name Adam Roberts

For Immediate Release:

14 Jun 2007

Global ivory trade suspension approved: Is the future secure for Africa’s beleaguered Pachyderms?

THE HAGUE—Government delegates today approved a compromise document to deal with the highly contentious continent-wide debate over the future of elephant conservation and the international sale of elephant ivory. After two weeks of intense deliberations, closed-door meetings, and Ministerial interventions, Parties accepted a plan to allow sale of current ivory stockpiles from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, while instituting a moratorium on further ivory trade for a period not less than nine years following the sale.

“The message must be heard across the planet today—by ivory poachers and profiteers alike—that CITES decision-makers have tired of the divisive debate over elephant ivory,” said Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation and Chairman of the Species Survival Network. “Although we’re surely disappointed that the controversial stockpile sales have been allowed, we are thrilled that the Parties listened to the dozens of African elephant Range States, united under Kenya’s and Mali’s strong leadership, and have finally agreed to an ivory trade moratorium.”

The deal, struck in middle of the night Wednesday, opens a new chapter in the ongoing, decades-long ivory debate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The ivory trade ban, which achieved such significant improvements in the security of elephants in the early 1990’s has been the subject of sustained, deliberate long-term erosion for the last decade. Travers, commenting on the discussions, said, “Negotiations have been protracted and relentless and, while both sides can claim success, the acid test will be the impact on Africa’s most fragile elephant populations.”

Notwithstanding the efforts of various African Elephant Range State Dialogue Meetings to reach consensus, the debate thus far has divided Africa with a small number of the most highly developed African elephant Range States strongly arguing for relaxations in the trade ban, and a large number of under-resourced African elephant Range States with vulnerable elephant populations arguing for sensible continent-wide conservation programs.

Parties have broadly agreed since 1997 to maintain the global prohibition on a continuous legal ivory trade, yet have relented under significant pressure to allow limited sales from verified ivory stockpiles. Members of the Species Survival Network, however, expressed continued concern over these stockpile sales, as it is hard to say exactly what the cumulative impact of the approved trade has been and will be on elephants.

Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency asked, “Will the stockpile sales approved at this COP be a green light to the poaching community and organized crime, or will the resting period truly deliver to Africa’s elephants an era of stability and security and increased wildlife law enforcement?”

However, it remains unclear as to what the “resting period” will mean in reality over these nine years. The compromise document states there will be no consideration of proposals for trade from countries with elephant populations already on Appendix II of the Convention. This, therefore, ­only applies to Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. SSN wonders whether this means that any of the other 30 or more African countries with elephants can continue to apply to have their population downlisted to Appendix II and submit ivory trade proposals.

“Sadly,” Travers concluded, “I have a sinking feeling that we shall still be debating ivory trade proposals throughout the resting period—despite what I believe to be the intention of Parties that this should not be the case. However, we hope that the countries with elephants still on Appendix I will respect the spirit of the decision taken today by the Parties and resist the temptation to seek ivory trade.”

The SSN and its members nevertheless will continue their commitment to respond positively to the needs of African Elephant Range States and the elephant conservation challenges they face. It must be hoped that the resting period, so many have worked so hard to achieve, is full of elephant conservation action to the benefit of real conservation.

For more information contact:

Adam M. Roberts, Press Officer,
In The Hague: 06-5213 6798
Globally: 1-202-445-3572

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