International trade in live elephants

In response to considerable interest from members of the public and non-government organizations, the CITES Secretariat offers this quick guide to CITES controls on international trade in live elephants.

Elephants taken from the wild

International trade in live elephants, especially when it takes the animals out of their natural range, is a very sensitive issue that generates expressions of public concern. There are strict rules in CITES to regulate such trade, but the trade is not prohibited, and some aspects of the trade are not covered by CITES rules.

The trade controls applying to trade in live elephants from the wild depend on the country of origin of the animals.

African elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are included in CITES Appendix II. This means that CITES Parties have agreed that although the species is “not necessarily now threatened with extinction” in these States, it may become so unless international trade in specimens from these States is strictly regulated in order to “avoid utilization incompatible with their survival”.

African elephants from other States and all Asian elephants are considered to be “threatened with extinction” and are therefore listed in Appendix I of the Convention. This means that import of live animals for “primarily commercial purposes” is not allowed so as not to “endanger further their survival”.

 

Conditions required prior to issuance of a CITES export permit allowing international trade in live elephants. All authorities are appointed by the State Party.

African elephants from Botswana and Zimbabwe (Appendix II)

  • The exporting Scientific Authority must have advised that export will “not be detrimental to the survival of the species”
  • The exporting Management Authority must be satisfied that the animals were legally obtained
  • It is confirmed that the animals are to go to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”* only1
  • The animals will be transported in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live animal regulations and CITES guidelines for the non-air transport of live wild animals and plants

African elephants from Namibia and  South Africa (Appendix II)

  • The exporting Scientific Authority must have advised that export will “not be detrimental to the survival of the species”
  • The exporting Management Authority must be satisfied that the animals were legally obtained
  • The animals are destined for in situ conservation programmes only1
  • It is confirmed that the animals are to go to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”* only1
  • The animals will be transported in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live animal regulations and CITES guidelines for the non-air transport of live wild animals and plants
African elephants from other African States and all Asian elephants (Appendix I)
  • The exporting Scientific Authority must have advised that export will “not be detrimental to the survival of the species”
  • The exporting Management Authority must be satisfied that the animals were legally obtained
  • The animals will be transported in accordance with International Air Transport Association (IATA) Live animal regulations and CITES guidelines for the non-air transport of live wild animals and plants
  • The importing Management Authority has issued an import permit, having been satisfied that:
    • the animal(s) will “not to be used for primarily commercial purposes”
    • the Scientific Authority in the importing State is satisfied that the  proposed recipient of a living specimen is “suitably equipped to house and care for it” and that the import will be “for purposes which are not detrimental to the survival of the species”

 

*CITES Parties have agreed2 that "appropriate and acceptable destinations" are defined as destinations where:

  • the Scientific Authority of the State of import is satisfied that the proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it; and
  • the Scientific Authorities of the State of import and the State of export are satisfied that the trade would promote in situ conservation

The triennial CITES conference held in 2016 in Johannesburg decided to consider the need for further guidance for CITES Scientific Authorities on the application of the condition relating to "appropriate and acceptable destinations" and on the ability of a proposed recipient of a living animal to be suitably equipped to house and care for it more generally. To inform this consideration, a review of these matters should be undertaken by the CITES subsidiary Committees. 

A report on this review is expected to be presented to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, CoP18, to be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2019.

It should be noted that the way in which the animals are captured and kept prior to the export falls outside of the current scope of CITES and is regulated by the national laws of the countries supplying the elephants.

Elephants that have been bred in captivity

Different controls apply to animals that are bred in captivity, depending on the purpose of the breeding. CITES Parties have adopted a strict definition of animals ‘bred in captivity’3. As most elephants are bred in captivity for non-commercial purposes, they may be subsequently traded internationally if accompanied by a certificate of captive breeding issued by the Authorities in the State of export.

 

CITES Secretariat, October, 2017



1 If this condition is not complied with, then the specimen is treated in the same way as “African elephants from other African States and all Asian elephants (Appendix I)”