(DOHA)—In an extraordinary, unprecedented, and quite undiplomatic start to CITES CoP 15, a delegate from Botswana moved during plenary to have Proposal 6 removed from the Agenda. This proposal, submitted by Ghana, Mali, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo Brazzaville and Liberia, seeks to prevent further ivory trading and maintain the current level of CITES protection for elephants for the next 20 years.
Botswana blithely argued that it was not within the powers of CITES to introduce measures that might prevent Parties from making future proposals to amend the Appendices – in this case, prevent future downlistings from Appendix I to Appendix II – and that such a move would undermine the sovereign rights of each member State. Of course, at the 2007 CITES Meeting, Parties did, in fact, approve a nine year moratorium on ivory trade from certain African elephant range States.
However, the Chair of the Plenary, on advice from the CITES Secretariat, ruled that Proposal 6 was to remain on the agenda.
Botswana’s shameful move sent shockwaves throughout the meeting hall, especially among the many delegates who remain appalled at the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to trade 111 tonnes of ivory from their stockpiles to China and Japan.
In the hallways outside the Conference room during a break, African delegates from across the continent reiterated their strong opposition for any further trade in elephant ivory. Here, Azizou El Hadj Issa, the Director of the office of forests and natural resources in Benin (a small west African country with only 1,200 elephants left), expresses his opposition to the ivory trade and calls on the world to support the many African countries working hard to protect their elephants from poachers.
Clearly the Parties must ultimately decide whether they want to see more high risk international ivory shipments, which could threaten the lives of tens of thousands of elephants across the continent or support measures that could reduce poaching pressure, choke off demand for ivory and make the lives of Africa’s elephants a little safer.