24.09.2016 – European Union decision may doom African elephants

The European Union, following a decision taken by the European Commission on 1st July, will oppose a total ban on international trade in elephant ivory at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which opens today in Johannesburg, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, 24 SEPTEMBER -- The European Union, following a decision taken by the European Commission on 1st July, will oppose a total ban on international trade in elephant ivory at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which opens today in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Contradicting the decision of the European Commission supported by the EU member states, a European Parliament resolution on 15th September categorically endorses a proposal by the African Elephant Coalition to put all elephants on CITES Appendix I, the highest protection under international law.

Complicating matters further is that the EU, represented by the European Commission, will participate for the first time as a full Party at the Johannesburg CITES meeting, representing all 28 EU member states in one voting bloc.

«By refusing to support the AEC proposals, the EU will effectively allow the current high levels of elephant poaching to continue,» says John Duhig, an advisor to Fondation Franz Weber.  «With additional powers granted to the European Commission on behalf of the EU, its first decision will doom the African elephant to certain extinction in the wild within 25 years.»

There is dissension, however, in the EU ranks. France and Luxembourg strongly favour an Appendix I listing and France has closed its domestic ivory markets.  But neither country will be able to openly contradict the common EU position.

The European Commission decision has been widely denounced by conservation groups and the general public – a petition supporting a global ban on ivory from the online activist community Avaaz has received nearly 1.3 million signatures.

«The European members of Parliament have listened to European citizens, conservationists and the large majority of African elephant range States by calling for an end to all ivory trade,» says Daniela Freyer, Co-Founder of Pro Wildlife. «But the power rests with the European Commission and the 28 EU member states who may determine the fate of elephants forever.»

This is not the first time that the EU has blocked the protection of African elephants. The EU played an essential and decisive role in the first down-listing at CoP 10 in 1997.  Then, in 2007 at CoP14, the EU suggested and negotiated a compromise which permitted the 2008 sale and the current moratorium on ivory sales, which expires in 2017.

The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), comprising 29 African countries representing 70 percent of African elephant range States, is advocating for a permanent ban on international trade in ivory at CoP17. The AEC’s package of five proposals would fully ban international trade in ivory by “up-listing” all elephants in CITES Appendix I and closing domestic ivory markets around the world.

All populations of African elephants were listed on CITES Appendix I in 1989, effectively banning international ivory trade. But the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) were down-listed to Appendix II (a less endangered status) to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008.

The Great Elephant Census, released last month, revealed a huge recent decline in savannah elephants, estimated at 144,000 (30 percent) in 15 African countries between 2007 and 2014, a rate of eight percent per year.

«It is unacceptable given the current rates of poaching that the EU will not support a ban on ivory trade,» says Dr Rosalind Reeve, senior advisor to Fondation Franz Weber and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which have been actively campaigning for a comprehensive ban on ivory trade. «A total ban is essential for the future existence of Africa’s elephants.»