CITES controls on 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”.
|Elephant populations||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)||
|African elephants from Namibia and South Africa (Appendix II)
|African elephants from other African States and all Asian elephants (Appendix I)||
|* 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)”|
Previous statements relating to trade in live elephants
Appropriate and acceptable destinations
"Appropriate and acceptable destinations" are defined as destinations:
- where the Management and 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 sustainably;
- where the Scientific Authorities of the State of import and the State of export are satisfied that the trade would promote in situ conservation; and
- that are In situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild, within the species’ natural and historical range in Africa, except in exceptional circumstances where (in consultation with the Animals Committee with the support of the CITES Secretariat and with the IUCN elephant specialist group) it is considered that a transfer to ex-situ locations will provide demonstrable in-situ conservation benefits for African elephants, or in the case of temporary transfers in emergency.
Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Namibia, the United Republic of Tanzania and South Africa have declared not to be in a position to implement Resolution Conf. 11.20 (Rev. CoP18) which contains the definition of "Appropriate and acceptable destinations" noted above. Zimbabwe furthermore reserved its right not to be bound by these provisions.
The triennial CITES conference held in 2019 in Geneva adopted Non-binding guidance for determining whether a proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it. See the webpage on appropriate and acceptable destinations for further information.
Parties have adopted a strict definition of animals ‘bred in captivity’. 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.