BANGKOK, THAILAND - September 29 - The Species Survival Network (SSN), a global coalition of nearly 80 organizations committed to international wildlife conservation and the strict implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), has learned that the Government of France may be spearheading a plan to break the deadlock over the longstanding issue of renewed international commercial ivory trade. This initiative comes to light as the second day of a meeting of African elephant range States draws to a close, in advance of the 2-14 October Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES.|
While details remain unconfirmed, sources report that France seeks European Union and wider international support for a five year ivory trade moratorium to allow field projects assessing levels of illegal elephant killing and international ivory trade to come to a conclusion. Such findings would then form the basis of decisions on future ivory trade proposals. Will Travers, Chairman of the Species Survival Network and CEO of the UK-based Born Free Foundation, cautiously welcomed news of the initiative: It would seem that France has listened carefully to the grave concerns of a number of African countries and has bravely entered the contentious ivory debate. The French initiative, building as it does on documents already submitted by the Government of Kenya, may mean that, for the next 5 years at least, CITES can focus its time, energy, and resources on other species threatened by trade. The Species Survival Network will watch carefully how this plan is received throughout the European Union, by African nations, and the wider CITES community.
Namibia is petitioning the 166 CITES Parties for approval to trade in 2,000kg raw ivory annually and an unlimited amount of worked ivory products for commercial purposes. Namibia has incurred at least 32 cases of elephant poaching following the 1997 CITES decision to allow a sale of stockpiled ivory, while some 319 illegal tusks have been seized, according to a new report from the Born Free Foundation, Tip of the Tusk. 319 tusks represents about ten times as many elephants as were reported poached during the previous 8 years, Travers observed. One cant help but wonder if poaching is going under-reported, or if elephants are falling prey to poachers bullets in neighboring countries and their tusks are entering Namibia in anticipation of a future ivory trade.
SSN feels strongly that no trade in ivory should be allowed while poaching and illegal trade remain a significant risk to the species across its range, added Adam Roberts, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based Animal Welfare Institute and member of the SSN Board of Directors. How can Namibia consider more ivory trade when the CITES Standing Committee has not determined whether conditions for the sale of ivory tentatively approved at the 2002 CITES meeting have been met? The Namibian proposal is premature and perilous. France is wise to give elephants a break, however brief.
Travers further considered the importance of the European Union in CITES decisions. The 25 EU member States consistently agree on a common CITES position and vote as a block: "The EU carries significant influence and responsibility for critical CITES decisions. By aligning with the French initiative the EU can set an example for the rest of the world, promoting a precautionary approach to what are, after all, life-and-death conservation issues on this years CITES agenda.
Namibia estimates a national African elephant population numbering 11,262 individuals, while the continent-wide population is estimated at between 461,067 and 660,211.
African elephants have been historically over-exploited by dramatic levels of poaching for the international trade in ivory; they also face dwindling wild habitat and increasing conflict with humans. In 1979 there were over 1,300,000 elephants across Africa. A decade later this had been cut to just over 600,000, a drop of over 50% in ten years.
Tip of the Tusk, a new report by the Elephant Working Group of the Species Survival Network (Born Free Foundation, 2004), catalogues that since 1998 over 95,000 kilogrammes of ivory has been confiscated by law enforcement agencies around the world while, during the same period, over 12,000 elephants have been illegally poached.
Namibias elephants are on Appendix II of CITES, with a specific annotation allowing: trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes; trade in live animals for in-situ conservation programs; trade in hides; trade in leather goods for non-commercial purposes. A one off trade in 10,000kg of registered raw ivory, in a single shipment, subject to certain conditions, was approved by CITES Parties in November 2002. However, the conditions have yet to be satisfied and the actual trade has yet to take place.
Namibia offered a similar proposal for an annual ivory export quota in 2002 and was denied.