Updates from CITES CoP16


Statement to CITES by Save the Elephants

Date Published

We speak in support of Gabon and Congo regarding ivory demand reduction. It is broadly recognized by the scientific community that, at the global level, demand for ivory is the principal driver of the illegal killing of elephants.

World demand for ivory exceeds the current supply of ivory from elephants, and the continental population is now in decline. We know from experience that large numbers in some areas are no protection for the species.

Unless demand is reduced, no amount of increases in law enforcement on their own are likely to succeed.

We urge all parties to unite in supporting ivory demand reduction and to initiate public awareness campaigns to reduce demand, to stop the killing.


Kathleen Gobush

Ivory Crisis Strategist, STE

March 13-14, 2013

After the big day for elephants on March 12, the conference wrapped up on Wednesday and Thursday with finalization of all decisions through the Plenary.

Discussion could be initiated at the Plenary on all of the decisions regarding elephant issues, but luckily this did not happen and the prior day’s agreements all sailed through and were officially accepted. Not so for other animals, such as Siam crocodiles and several shark species– last-minute nail-biting opening of the debate during the Plenary threatened to nullify the prior day’s agreements but fortunately, in the end, the new protections for these animals were maintained.

STE team members attended a presentation of “Return to the Forest”, a moving film highlighting the Thai Queen’s foundation that rescues “street elephants” from a life of begging for sugar cane to newly protected forest lands; so far 24 individuals have been rescued. Several press conferences occurred to digest the gains of the conference, including a “review of the fate of tigers, rhinos and elephants at CITES” by Wildlife Protection Society of India, FREELAND, IFAW and EIA, and also “40 years of CITES: A roundtable with CITES’ Legends”. Iain also participated in a MIKE-ETIS Technical Advisory Group meeting, and the STE team attended the Standing Committee 64 after the close of CoP16 (on Thursday afternoon).

The entire team continued to make connections with Party delegates and other partners focused on elephant issues—there is much work to do now that CITES CoP16 is nearly complete. We are looking forward to working with many of the scientists, conservationists and others that we’ve met here in order to significantly improve the situation for the African elephant going forward.


March 11-12, 2013

A number of the elephant issues that were discussed last week (on March 7) went to working groups made up of Party delegates. This Monday (March 11), as working groups finished up their draft decisions, much intense discussion occurred between Parties, IGOs, and NGOs, including the STE team—in an attempt to reach mutual understanding about the issues and ensure that the draft decisions were built on the best available science.

On Monday evening, the STE team attended an event about India’s International

Elephant Congress planned for November 2013. The event was sponsored Wildlife Trust of India, Arvind M. Singh, Vivek Menon, and Dr Prajna Panda.

The draft decisions were finally released on Tuesday morning (March 12) and intense discussion on the floor occurred that afternoon. During the discussion on the draft decision on the Monitoring of illegal ivory and other elephant specimens, minor amendments were discussed with the result being that Parties agreed to sample large scale seizures (500kg or more) within in 90 days of the seizure for forensic analysis and, critically, from all large seizures over the last 24 months if possible. Lee White of Gabon attempted to add a long paragraph to the already drafted decision about demand reduction. Only two NGOs were selected to speak, one being STE. Iain got the last word in, and “…urg[ed] parties to unite in supporting ivory demand reduction and initiate public awareness campaigns to reduce demand, to stop the killing.” Unfortunately, Gabon’s suggested addition was not accepted but they will be allowed to re-open the debate at the next Standing Committee meeting.

The draft revision on Trade in elephant specimens was accepted with some minor revisions, but notably in the section on that urges Parties to “engage in public awareness campaigns” Gabon’s request to include “supply and demand reduction” was accepted after a very long, drawn out battle with South Africa who did not want to include it. The overall acceptance of this draft revision means, among other things, that annual government-held ivory stockpile inventory and reporting will occur.

Tuesday evening, the team was invited to dinner for scientists and educators held by at the Four Seasons in Bangkok and are told we will have the chance to meet Thai colleagues who are on the front-line working toward solutions for Thailand’s HEC. Hopefully there will be a moment to relax there after this intense day.


March 05-06, 2013

Elephant issues have yet to be discussed at the CoP because lengthy discussions on other agenda items have pushed it to March 7, so we are braced for lively discussion this morning. We attended a press conference given by the CITES secretariat launching the UNEP Rapid Reaction Assessment titled “Elephants in the Dust- The African Elephant Poaching Crisis”. This was a soft launch for a glossy UNEP booklet that covers the status of elephant with excellent maps and diagrams written in non technical English, but informed by many of the best data sets available. Speakers were Holly Dublin for AfESG IUCN, Julian Blanc for the MIKE programme, and Tom Milliken for TRAFFIC / ETIS. They concisely described how data triangulated from different sources to establish the new paradigm of destruction and decline of elephant populations due to rising demand and use of ivory, most of it illegally acquired from illegal killing. This trend is no longer in dispute and has scientific consensus across the board. Tom Milliken, ETIS analyst, came out particularly strong about the results of the ivory seizure analyses and the need to enforce compliance by parties to Convention resolutions and decisions to shut down unregulated domestic ivory markets and to consider sanctions if compliance is not accomplished.

The National Geographic television special “Battle for the Elephants” was presented yesterday evening (6th Mar) as an evening side-event to a packed room. The film explores the brutal slaughter of African elephants for their tusks, fueled largely by Asia’s demand for ivory. Journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley investigate the criminal network behind ivory’s supply and demand. Hartley attempts to buy large quantities of tusks from poachers in Tanzania. Christy explores the thriving industry of luxury goods made from ivory. After the screening, a panel that included Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Liz Bennett (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the production team of the NG film led an engaging conversation with the audience that focused on the need for universal reduction in the demand for ivory. Patrick Omondi (Kenya) spoke eloquently in support, along with Grace Gabriel (IFAW). Ron Orenstein (HSI) and others providing poignant comments about their experiences on the issue at past CITES, in Africa and appealing to China to help solve the problem by curbing domestic demand for ivory and uncontrolled domestic ivory markets.

We have continued to consult with all parties and NGOs, including Grace Gabriel of IFAW on Chinese demand issues, Simon Hedges (WCS, Asian Elephant Specialist Group) on demand reduction strategies, Sam Wasser, Dan Stiles and Tom Milliken on technical aspects of the trade, seizures and ivory traceability and UK delegation on their stance on a number of the documents to be discussed on March 7.


March 03, 2013

The CITES 16th Conference of the Parties launched on March 3 in Bangkok, Thailand with opening speeches by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (recorded), John Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General, Achim Steiner of UNEP and Prime Minister of Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra that each acknowledged the current poaching crisis impacting African and Asian elephants. Poaching levels were described as “shocking”, “disturbing”, “the worst we have seen in decades”. The need to reverse these trends, together, was strongly emphasized and Secretary-General Scanlon stated that “we know the way—we need the will”. PM Shinawatra was eloquent and touching when she spoke of how the Thai people love and revere elephants as part of their culture; she promised to “work towards amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end to ivory trade and to be in line with international norms. “

The opening day speeches, as well as the discussion in the Standing Committee meeting on March 2, demonstrated a common awareness of the elephant poaching crisis, though divisiveness on the cause, the actions needed and timeline for these actions is also apparent. STE believes that the severity of the situation presents a real opportunity for constructive dialogue. We have been consulting with all parties and NGOs such as WildAid, Wildlife Conservation Society, Environmental Investigation Agency, Born Free Foundation, WWF-TRAFFIC, and UNEP and stay coordinated with the Kenyan delegation and Kenyan Elephant Forum. We have also begun to engage with Party delegates and will be focusing on this in the lead up to March 6, a big day for discussion of elephant issues.

Iain presented the film “White Gold” produced by Simon Trevor of the African Environmental Film Foundation on March 4, on behalf of KWS, KEF and Save the Elephants, to an audience of about 60 people. The film tells the story of the elephants of Tsavo, Kenya’s largest national park, over the last 60 years and gives an authentic and detailed account of the fight against poaching, and current suffering and destruction of elephants in Tsavo, highlighting KWS’s challenges and the difficult and dangerous work carried out by rangers. It was well received and is sure to stimulate constructive discussion here over the upcoming days.