The trampling of African elephants… A matter of East, Central and North Africa versus SADC


Lahja Nashuuta, Southern Times Africa

Date Published

Windhoek – A group of countries from Central, North and Eastern Africa last week went to lobby the European Union for the listing of all African elephants, including those in southern Africa, under Appendix I, which means they are most endangered species.

Currently, the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe are listed under Appendix II, which makes them species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.

The Appendix II listing comes with some benefits such as occasionally being allowed to sell ivory under controlled trade.

And such a listing for the four SADC countries does not sit well with the 29 North, Central and East African countries who have united under the banner of ‘African Elephant Coalition’. Among them are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Nigeria, Chad, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Southern Sudan, Togo and Uganda.

As far as they are concerned, having African elephants listed in two different Appendices by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora gives an impression that there are two different species of the African elephant.

“The African elephant is a single species and the CITES listing needs to reflect that,” says Andrew Seguya, Executive Directive of Uganda’s Wildlife Authority.

“An elephant that wakes up in the morning in Angola could be in Namibia by the same afternoon. Africa and the EU needs to work towards the common purpose of saving elephants from extinction. We call on the EU to follow through on their commitment for a total ban on ivory trade and support an African solution to an African problem,” Seguya said in Brussels last week.

The lobbying in Brussels last week comes ahead of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of CITES to be held from 24 September to 5 October in Johannesburg, South Africa. The group presented proposals that it wants discussed at the conference by the high-level officials of the European Commission and of EU member states. One of the proposals seeks to unify all African elephant populations and their range states.

CITES Appendix I for African elephants came into effect in 1989 with the ban on commercial trade in ivory and other elephant specimens. However, African elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe were removed from Appendix I to Appendix II. This reclassification has allowed the four SADC countries to trade certain elephant specimens under strict conditions, as they did on two occasions in 1999 and 2008 selling stocks of raw ivory.

The re-listing of the African elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe under Appendix II was a result of an assessment that found that southern Africa stands out from the other regions for having elephant populations steadily increasing since the early 20th century when the numbers were at an all-time low due to uncontrolled sport hunting in the 19th century.

It was found that although poaching also occurred in Southern Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, the numbers were not even close to those of Central and Eastern Africa. It was actually the opposite, with the elephant populations of Southern Africa being protected through targeted conservation efforts. “It is the only region that has shown a definite and clear population increase over recent decades,” noted an inter-agency collaboration between UNEP, CITES, IUCN and TRAFFIC that looked at elephant population from the late 1980s to 2007.

Nevertheless, the African Elephant Coalition wants the EU to extend its commitment towards implementing the African Elephant Action Plan, adopted by all African elephant range states in 2010, by supporting the listing of all African elephants as a way to enhance the unity of African nations with respect to elephants and elephant conservation.

They argue this “would provide maximum protection to elephants and end the split-listing of the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe”.

The 29 African countries are of the opinion that in 25 years there may not be a single elephant in Africa if the current rate of killing continues.

The group commended the EU for adopting the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking.

According to African Elephant Coalition (AEC), elephant herds are in terrible decline due to poaching. They say from 2010 to 2012, at least 100 000 elephants were killed in Africa for their ivory, most of them in the 29 AEC countries.

“We need the EU to support us and become part of the solution to this crisis. We, the Africans, have that solution and we call on the EU and its member states to throw their support behind our proposals,” said Azizou El HadjIssa, former Minister of Agriculture in Benin and President of the Council of Elders of the AEC.

“The situation is alarming in most of our countries. Elephants are slaughtered every day, rangers are being killed and the trade is fuelling terrorism, which destabilises the continent and has huge repercussions for EU security,” he said.