Chile - Members of the international nongovernmental coalition Species
Survival Network were "shocked" to hear the United States offer a plan today
that would allow for a renewed international commercial trade in stockpiled elephant
ivory within the next three years.
The U.S. amendment language came without warning at the 12th conference of
Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
during debate over a proposal from Botswana to allow the trade in 20 metric tons
of ivory and also allow for an annual quota for ivory sales.
The U.S. language was announced moments before the European Union announced
its opposition to the ivory trade at this time.
The head of the United States delegation, Judge Craig Manson, admitted at a briefing
this evening that the United States had not shared its amendment language with
either the European Union, or the ivory trade proponent countries before offering
it on the floor, said Adam Roberts, senior research associate for the Animal Welfare
Institute, a Washington, DC based member organization of the Species Survival
African activists of the Maasai Environmental Resource Centre stand next to an
inflatable, life-size elephant in Santiago, November 11, 2002. Representatives
of 160 nations will decide during the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (CITES), being held in Santiago, whether to ease a 13-year-old ban on
ivory trade. The headline on the banner reads 'No to ivory trading.' REUTERS/Claudia
The newly articulated U.S. position comes as a surprise because on the second
day of the CITES conference, November 4, Judge Manson said the United States "remains
concerned regarding any resumption in this trade because of potential effects
on elephant populations and ongoing monitoring efforts."
Judge Manson is assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks in the
U.S. Department of the Interior. A former California Superior Court judge, he
previously served as general counsel for the California Department of Fish and
Judge Manson admitted to receiving 12,000 emails objecting to any relaxation
in the ivory trade ban from concerned citizens in the last 48 hours.
"The United States continues to be strongly committed to African elephant
conservation," he said on November 4. "Regardless of the decision reached by the
160 nations that are part of CITES, ivory imports to the United States will continue
to be prohibited under both the Endangered Species Act and the African Elephant
Botswana is one of five African countries that has proposed at this CITES
meeting to resume the international ivory trade. The other countries are South
Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. Together, all five countries have proposed
to export 87 metric tons of stockpiled ivory, the tusks of about 11,000 elephants.
The countries also asked permission to export a total of 13 metric tons of
ivory on an annual basis.
Each proposal is being considered separately at the CITES meeting. Botswana,
the first to be considered, is seeking to export 20 metric tons of ivory at first
and then four metric tons annually thereafter. Kenya and India are opposed to
the resumption of the elephant ivory trade. They have proposed to the CITES meeting
that all African elephant populations be listed on CITES Appendix I which prohibits
"Why on earth did the U.S. not share its language with the EU?" asked Will
Travers, president of the Species Survival Network and CEO of the Born Free Foundation.
He warns that the U.S. decision may undermine the European Union´s strong position
against the ivory trade.
"An agreement could have been worked out that pleased all relevant Parties
if the U.S. had not acted unilaterally. The EU clearly stated that the ivory trade
should not resume before the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to
CITES in 2005 has agreed to this trade. The U.S. must incorporate this timing
in its amendment language before it is voted upon tomorrow," Travers demanded.
Elephant conservationists fear that restarting the legal ivory would act as
a mask for an illegal trade based on poached elephants that is already thriving.
Poaching has wiped out over 3,600 elephants in the last two years and customs
officials around the world have intercepted at least 50 metric tons of illegal
ivory in the same period, warns Susie Watts who chairs the Species Survival Network's
Elephant Working Group.
African countries have agreed by consensus to the re-opening of ivory trade
under strict regulations. The agreement was reached at a late October meeting
of 24 of the 37 African elephant range states, that is the countries inhabited
Kenya has entered a formal reservation to the African agreement on ivory trade
announced at the African Elephant Range States Dialogue, questioning the process
by which the compromise was achieved, and the role of the CITES Secretariat in
leading the negotiations
The Kenya/India proposal was not discussed when negotiating a compromise despite
the fact that a number of countries expressed support for the proposal, and India,
a co-proponent on the Kenya proposal was not permitted to attend the meeting.
Kenya Wildlife Service Director Joseph Kioko objects to the renewed ivory
trade because, he says, previous ivory quota systems devised by CITES failed to
protect elephants because enormous and growing markets in the East had the capacity
to consume more ivory than Africa could legally supply, resulting in enormous
volumes of illegal ivory trafficking.
Under Appendix II, which permits trade under strict regulations, even with
an ivory quota system, African elephants were predicted to decline to extinction
within 10 years. Between 1979 and 1989, the African elephant population declined
by 53 percent, Kioko points out.
By 1989, it was estimated that 90 percent of ivory in trade came from poached
elephants. The 1989 CITES ivory trade ban is working, says Kioko, as evidenced
by the fact that in the 10 years after the ban, the continental African elephant
population was no longer in decline.
Many of the causes of the failure of the Appendix II listing and ivory quota
system are still a threat to elephant populations today, Kioko warns. "These include
poor regulations, corruption, access to arms, poor enforcement, no monitoring,
and the existence of numerous loopholes."
Delegates to the CITES conference must vote on the elephant ivory trade issue
in plenary session before the conference closes November 15.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2002