Thursday, 25 August 2016

Why Some Countries Don't Want to Do More to Protect Elephants

What to do about the African elephant poaching crisis looms large ahead of next month’s major international wildlife trade meeting.

By Adam Cruise


That African elephants are in deep trouble has been widely publicized in recent years. They’re being poached at an unsustainable rate, and their numbers have dropped from 600,000 a decade ago to some 400,000 today.

That’s why next month’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is critical. CITES is the treaty signed by 182 countries that regulates wildlife trade across borders. In 1990 CITES banned the international trade in elephant ivory in an attempt to stem poaching, but the slaughter continues unabated.

At the upcoming meeting, known as the Conference of the Parties, or CoP 17, representatives from each member country will get together in Johannesburg to decide how best to manage Africa’s elephants. Two proposals would bring back the ivory trade, while a third would give all of Africa’s elephants the highest level of protection, which would preclude any chance of ivory sales. The battle over these proposals promises to be heated.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s most comprehensive inventory of how well or badly species are doing, the status of the African elephant “varies considerably across the species' range.” The southern African countries of Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana, for instance, have tens of thousands of elephants.

Under CITES, species are assigned to one of three appendices, which strongly reflect the IUCN’s threat levels. Species in Appendix I are most endangered, and their commercial trade is prohibited. For Appendix II and III species, which have lower threat levels, trade is allowed but controlled. The CITES Secretariat agreed to divide Africa’s elephants between Appendix I (generally East, central, and West Africa) and Appendix II (southern Africa).

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