CITES sets strict conditions for any possible future ivory sales

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CITES sets strict conditions for any possible future ivory sales

Santiago de Chile, 12 November 2002 – Building on an earlier consensus amongst most African elephant range states, the 160-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has agreed here on a rigorous regime for controlling any eventual sales of ivory.

CITES has conditionally accepted proposals from Botswana and Namibia that they be allowed to make one-off sales of 20 and 10 tonnes of ivory, respectively. The ivory is held in existing legal stocks that have been collected from elephants that died of natural causes or as a result of government-regulated problem-animal control.

Similar proposals from South Africa and Zimbabwe for 30 and 10 tonnes, respectively, will be considered later today. This morning’s decision by CITES must still be formally adopted by the full Plenary on Friday, when the current two-week conference ends.

“The African elephant is valued and admired by people all over the world,” said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers. “But it is significant that today´s decision embodies an African solution to an African problem – the challenge of conserving the continent’s wild herds of elephants in an age of growing human needs and population.”

“While richer countries can often afford to promote conservation through strict protection, many poorer nations must do so in ways that benefit local communities and bring in much-needed cash for conservation. In the African context, a conservation strategy based on sustainable use may offer elephants the best possible long-term future. The key is finding solutions that benefit states that rely on tourism as well as those that seek income from elephant products,” he said.

Today´s agreement requires any future one-off sales to be supervised through a rigorous control system. The sales cannot occur before May 2004 to provide time for baseline data to be gathered on population and poaching levels and for the CITES Secretariat to verify and register the existing stocks. The Secretariat must also confirm whether any potential buyers can effectively regulate their domestic ivory markets and thus are eligible for importing the ivory. The aim of these controls is to prevent any illegal ivory from entering into legal markets and to discourage an upsurge in poaching.

Another protection built into the system is that trade can be suspended if the CITES Standing Committee finds either an exporting or an importing country to be in non-compliance. In addition, trade can be stopped if there is any evidence that trade is leading to increased poaching in other regions of Africa. Two monitoring systems that have been established to track the illegal killing of elephants and illegal sales of ivory will be critical to ensuring that countries relying on tourism are not harmed by ivory sales from countries that also rely on trade.

After banning all ivory sales in 1989, CITES agreed in 1997 to allow Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make one-time sales from their existing legal stocks of raw ivory. The ivory – which weighed almost 50 tonnes and represented 5,446 tusks - was sold to Japan in 1999 and earned some USD5 million. The funds were used for elephant conservation activities.

For this year´s CITES conference, these three countries plus South Africa and Zambia proposed one-off sales of existing ivory stocks to be followed later by annual quotas. The original proposals were for a first sale of 20 tonnes and an annual quota of 4 tonnes for Botswana, 10 tonnes and 2 tonnes respectively for Namibia, 30 tonnes and 2 tonnes for South Africa and 10 tonnes and 5 tonnes for Zimbabwe. Botswana and Namibia withdrew their requests for annual quotas during the meeting. Zambia has proposed a one-off sale of 17 tonnes without annual quotas; this proposal too will be considered later today. A proposal from India and Kenya, on the other hand, argued that further ivory sales from African elephants should be clearly prohibited as a precautionary measure for reducing future threats to the elephant.

On 29-31 October, just before the start of the CITES conference, 24 governments participated in an African elephant range States Dialogue in an effort to build an African consensus on ivory. The Dialogue resulted in amendments to the proposals for resuming trade, including an amendment stating that Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe should be able to export their declared stocks of raw ivory only after the conditions described above have been met. Kenya expressed its reservation on the consensus reached by the other states.

Much of the past decade’s debate over ivory has hinged on whether or not the sale of ivory from legal government stocks in one part of the continent leads to increased poaching in other parts. Recognizing the need for reliable data on poaching and smuggling, CITES has established two long-term monitoring systems.

The site-based system for Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants, or MIKE, seeks to measure and identify trends in elephant poaching in both Africa and Asia. It also aims to assess the factors driving elephant killings and to determine whether such killings are linked to CITES decisions. Once it is fully operational, MIKE will conduct standardized population surveys at least once every two years at 45 sites in Africa and 15 in Asia. It is also designed to track the degree of law enforcement effort at these sites. MIKE is administered by the CITES Secretariat.

The Parties also mandated a monitoring system to track illegal trade in elephant products. This led to the development of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), which is operated under the auspices of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. ETIS collects global law enforcement data on elephant product seizures, corruption, domestic ivory markets, background economic variables and other factors.

The 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention started on 4 November and will conclude on 15 November. It is being attended by some 1,200 participants from 141 governments as well as numerous observer organizations.

Ivory in five southern African countries (metric tonnes)

Country Existing stocks Recent annual stock growth Future potential annual stock growth* Elephant population
Botswana 33 7.7 10-50 120,000
Namibia 39 3.5 1-5 9,000
South Africa 32   1-4.5 13,000
Zambia 17     29,000
Zimbabwe 20.9 20 8.5-42.5 88,000

* Based on 1-5% natural mortality and low crude average combined tusk weights of 10 kg per individual.

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