Trade in live elephants from Zimbabwe - Public statement of the CITES Secretariat

Updated on 28 October 2022

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has received copies of various news articles, as well as other communications by private individuals and special interest groups, concerning alleged trade in live African elephants from Zimbabwe to destinations in China and the United Arab Emirates.

The Secretariat is issuing this public statement to explain the application of CITES to this trade, and to clarify the relevant procedures.

China, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe are all Parties to CITES.

Permits and certificates for international trade under CITES can be issued only by the designated national CITES authorities of the 180 Parties to CITES. (Parties are States - or countries - that have joined the Convention.)

The CITES Secretariat does not issue CITES permits or certificates, and has no authority to directly intervene in any trade transactions.

Parties to CITES are required to report all authorized international trade in specimens of CITES species to the CITES Secretariat on an annual basis. These reports are included in the CITES Trade Database, which is publicly available.

The population of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) of Zimbabwe is included in Appendix II of CITES, following a decision taken in 1997 by the Conference of the Parties to CITES. This means that the Parties to CITES consider the African elephant population in Zimbabwe is not necessarily threatened with extinction but could become so if trade were not strictly regulated.

There is an annotation to the Appendix-II listing of Zimbabwe's African elephant population that specifically allows for "trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations". The words “appropriate and acceptable destinations” are defined in Resolution Conf. 11.20 of the Conference of the Parties to CITES.

Therefore, international commercial and non-commercial trade in certain specimens of African elephants from Zimbabwe (including live animals) is allowed by the Convention if specified conditions are followed. These conditions are contained in relevant provisions of the Convention, particularly those of Article IV.

In addition to the requirements above, according to Article IV of the Convention, the CITES Management Authority of Zimbabwe may grant a permit to export live elephants only when:

a)  it is satisfied that they were obtained in accordance with national law;

b)  the CITES Scientific Authority of Zimbabwe has advised that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species; and

c)  the CITES Management Authority of Zimbabwe is satisfied that any living specimen will be so prepared and shipped as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.

Regarding the first requirement, the verification of the legal origin of the specimens is the responsibility of the Management Authority of the State of export, which must be satisfied that the specimens were not obtained in contravention of the laws of that State.

With respect to the second requirement, an assessment of the sustainability of export of Appendix-II species (known as a non-detriment finding) is conducted by the CITES Scientific Authority of the State of export. Reviews of the sustainability of trade in Appendix-II species are conducted by the relevant CITES scientific committees with the support of the Secretariat.

In relation to the third requirement, it is recommended in Resolution Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP16), on Transport of live specimens, that the Live Animals Regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the CITES guidelines for the non-air transport of live wild animals and plants be deemed to meet CITES transport requirements.

The Secretariat has corresponded with the CITES Management Authorities of China, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe to ascertain the particular circumstances surrounding the reported trade in live elephants. The Secretariat has also asked whether the procedures set out under Article IV of the Convention and Resolutions Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP16) and Conf. 11.20 were followed in relation to any trade.

The CITES Management Authority of China has advised that it has not received any application to import elephants from Zimbabwe.

The CITES Management Authorities of the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe have advised that they have authorized the export from Zimbabwe to the United Arab Emirates of seven elephants as a family group that has been in captivity in Zimbabwe for more than 10 years. The two Management Authorities advise that the group consists of one calf with its mother and other adults. The Management Authority of Zimbabwe has also advised that before the trade was authorized, a non-detriment finding was made in Zimbabwe. The authorities of both the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe advise that they conducted an inspection of the private park to which the animals will be sent, to ensure that it is an appropriate and acceptable destination. Copies of the inspection report and of the permits have now been provided to the CITES Secretariat at its request.

Some press articles refer to Mr Hank Jenkins, who is said to be a former official of CITES. Mr Jenkins was an employee of the CITES Management Authority of Australia, and was the Chair of the CITES Animals Committee from 1992 to 2000. He was never an official of the CITES Secretariat and has no association with the Secretariat.

CITES Secretariat

18 December 2014

See also:

Recent trade of elephants from Zimbabwe to China 11 January 2013