Botswana Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama said he was surprised that the US and EU decided on Monday not to support a proposal to list all African elephants on a commercial trade ban list.
A co-proposal by 13 counties to list the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Appendix I failed to get a two-third majority at the 17th Conference of the Parties to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). All other elephants in Africa are listed on Appendix I.
The move was fiercely opposed by SA, Namibia and Zimbabwe for not meeting the scientific requirements of Cites but Botswana came out in support of the proposal, to applause of delegates. Botswana hosts the world’s largest population of elephants.
Currently the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, SA and Zimbabwe are all listed on Appendix II of Cites, which allows certain countries to trade elephants and the commercial products of the animal such as the hide, hair and as trophies, depending on the laws of each country. Trade of ivory is banned under Cites, with only few controlled exceptions.
The proposal to list the elephant on Appendix I was made by Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Khama said that the Great Elephant Census, a Botswana-led survey, showed that in 15 countries the savanna elephant population declined by 30% within seven years, which is about 144,000 elephants.
He said that in 10 years, poaching could wipe out 50% of Africa’s elephant population and the current situation needed to be brought under control. Khama said that there was a need to stem the demand of ivory internationally, protect the remaining herds and secure habitats, and for that reason Botswana supported the proposal.
Khama said the decline was in such free-fall that if something was not done and countries waited too long, they might be unable to stop it.
Khama said there could not be two different listings for African elephants when the animals crossed borders between countries so frequently.
“When an elephant crosses a border does its Appendix situation change? That can’t be right, we have to be consistent,” said Khama.
In a media briefing, Khama questioned the motivation of countries that voted against the proposal, in particular the US and EU. He said their interest in hunting wildlife could have played a role in them supporting the rejection of the proposal. Khama said if the US and EU wanted to turn down the proposal they needed to offer support to countries that were battling poaching.
During the debate on the proposal, the EU said the proposal failed to meet the scientific requirement need to be passed and the population of elephants in those countries were strong.
Khama said that Botswana’s aim was to change from a consumptive reliance on elephants to nonconsumptive reliance, where communities were more reliant on the animal being alive, such as in tourism, than what they could get from it being dead.
Khama said that they would try again — Botswana could make a proposal on October 5, the last day of the conference to have the decision revisited.
On Monday, Cites rejected two other elephant listing proposals. Namibia and Zimbabwe proposed to open international trade in their ivory.
World Wildlife Fund head of delegation to Cites Ginette Hemley said that decisions closed all potential avenues to a resumption in international ivory trade, paving the way for the world to unite behind efforts to crack down on the illegal ivory trade.
He said rather than vote to resume trade, countries at Cites rightly chose to reinforce the existing global ban on ivory trade by calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets and the strengthening of national ivory action plan processes.
“These are critical actions for securing the future of Africa’s elephants. None of these proposals would have offered elephant populations any greater protection from the poachers. Indeed, the proposal to uplist four southern African populations to Appendix I could well have opened a back door to legal international trade,” Hemley said.
Namibia stated during the debate on moving its elephant population to Appendix I that it would have no option but to enter a reservation if the proposal had been accepted. This would have exempted it from Cites regulations regarding elephants and allowed it to legally trade ivory without any Cites oversight.-