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CITES puts ivory sales on hold
Geneva, 5 October 2006 – The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has decided not to allow exports of elephant ivory from Botswana (20 tonnes of ivory), Namibia (10 tonnes) and South Africa (30 tonnes) to proceed at this time.
The sales were agreed in principle in 2002. However, they were made conditional on the ability of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) system to establish up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels.
Today’s meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (which oversees the implementation of CITES decisions in between the major conferences) determined that this condition has not yet been satisfied and the sales may not go forward.
This issue will now be considered at the next meeting of the Standing Committee, which will take place in late May 2007 in The Hague, The Netherlands.
CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989. Then, in 1997, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations are healthy and well managed, it permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale of ivory to Japan totalling 50 tonnes (the sales took place in 1999 and earned some $5 million).
In 2004, requests by several southern African states for annual ivory quotas were not accepted by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention. All legal sales of ivory derive from existing stocks gathered from elephants that have died as a result of natural causes or culling. Today the elephant populations of southern Africa are listed on Appendix II of the Convention (which manages trade through a permit system, although elephants have zero quotas) while most other elephant populations are listed in Appendix I (which forbids all commercial trade).
The long-running global debate over elephants has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side by side with large and often dangerous animals versus concerns that such sales may increase poaching. The baseline data will make it possible to determine objectively what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching.
Consisting of 15 countries representing all regions of the world, the Standing Committee is meeting in Geneva from 2 to 6 October (the meeting is not open to the press). The 169 country members to CITES will next meet at the ‘14th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14)’, to be held in The Hague, the Netherlands, from 3 to 15 June 2007. The CITES Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme.
Note to journalists: See Standing Committee meeting Document 26.2 at www.cites.org/eng/com/sc/54/index.shtml and the 2002 agreement on ivory at www.cites.org/eng/cop/12/Adopted_Amendments.pdf (pages 5 to 8). For more information please contact Michael Williams at +41 22 917 8242, +41 79 409 1528 (cell) or Michael.williams [at] unep.ch, or Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or juan.vasquez [at] unep.ch.
Backgrounder: Understanding CITES
Thousands of species around the world are endangered or at risk as a result of human activities such as habitat destruction, over-harvesting and pollution. CITES was adopted in 1973 to address the threat posed by just one of these activities: unsustainable international trade. With some 166 Parties, CITES is one of the world's most important agreements on species conservation and the non-detrimental use of wildlife.
Even after commercial fishing and the timber industry are set aside, the international trade in wildlife is big business, estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually and to involve more than 350 million plant and animal specimens every year. Unregulated international trade can push threatened and endangered species over the brink, especially when combined with habitat loss and other pressures.
Three ways to regulate
CITES provides three regulatory options in the form of Appendices. Animals and plants listed under Appendix I are excluded from international commercial trade except in very special circumstances. Appendix I contains almost 600 animal species and a little more than 300 plant species, including all the great apes; various big cats such as cheetahs, the snow leopard and the tiger; numerous birds of prey, cranes, and pheasants; all sea turtles; many species of crocodiles, tortoises and snakes; and some cacti and orchids.
Commercial international trade is permitted for species listed in Appendix II, but it is strictly controlled on the basis of CITES permits. This Appendix II covers over 4,100 animal species and 28,000 plant species, including all those primates, cats, cetaceans, parrots, crocodiles and orchids not listed in Appendix I.
Finally, Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. An Appendix III listing allows a country to call on others to help it regulate trade in the listed species. This Appendix lists over 290 species.
CITES, then, does much more than regulate trade in large charismatic mammals. It sets up a green certification system for non-detrimental wildlife trade (based on CITES permits and certificates), combats illegal trade and related wildlife offences, promotes international cooperation, and helps to establish management plans so that range States can monitor and sustainably manage CITES-listed species.
CITES requires each member government to adopt the necessary national legislation and officially designate a Management Authority that issues trade permits. Governments must also designate a Scientific Authority to provide scientific advice on imports and exports. These national authorities are responsible for implementing CITES in close cooperation with Customs, wildlife enforcement, police or similar agencies.
As the impact of trade on a population or a species increases or decreases, the species can be added to the CITES Appendices, removed from them, or transferred from one Appendix to another. These decisions are to be based on the best biological information available and an analysis of how different types of protection can affect specific populations.
It is worth noting that when a species is transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II, its protection has not necessarily been ‘downgraded’. Rather, it can be a sign of success that a species’ population has grown to the point where well-regulated trade may be possible. In addition, by allowing a species to be commercially traded at sustainable levels, an Appendix-II listing can actually improve protection by giving local people a greater stake in the species’ survival.
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