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Protection of African elephants blocked

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger stacks elephant tusks which were part of about 105 tons of confiscated ivory set ablaze on a pyre at Nairobi National Park in April.

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger stacks elephant tusks which were part of about 105 tons of confiscated ivory set ablaze on a pyre at Nairobi National Park in April.

Published Oct 4, 2016

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Johannesburg - Lobbying among government officials and conservation practitioners over the past week came to the fore on Monday when the African elephant took centre stage at the Convention of the Illegal trade in Endangered wild flora and fauna (Cites).

A proposal by Namibia and Zimbabwe for special dispensation to trade in ivory was rejected by the parties.

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And in a second open vote, the delegation also rejected the up-listing of the elephant populations of Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa to Appendix 1.

South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique had expressed support for both proposals during the intervention stage. But it was the support of Botswana to include its elephants that elicited applause.

As Appendix 1, elephants and their parts could only be traded under exceptional circumstances.

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Ginette Hemley, the World Wildlife Fund head of delegation, said the parties rightly chose to prioritise closing domestic ivory markets.

“African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory, and opening up any legal trade in ivory would complicate efforts to conserve them,” she said.

The US, The EU (which vote as a party), Israel, Kenya and Nigeria were among the nations that intervened in the submission to resume trade in ivory.

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The South African delegation supported applications from Namibia and Zimbabwe, arguing that ivory represented a way for rural communities to sustainably support themselves with ivory harvested from elephants that died naturally. They reminded parties that the southern African countries had succeeded in managing their populations against poaching.

Ron Thomson, president of the True Green Alliance said there were in excess of 300 000 elephants in Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and that Botswana was a core part of the world’s largest mega-population of elephants.

“These large numbers of elephants have been consistently over-utilising their habitat resources for the past four decades and more.

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“Consequently, they have been causing a perpetual and progressive degradation of their sanctuaries’ biological diversities; and they have been converting their habitats into deserts. This state of affairs is unacceptable, unsustainable and a recipe for disaster,” Thomson said.

Gabon, a co-author on the proposal to up-list, urged parties to put their name to the vote. The South African delegation argued against the proposal.

“While there has been a decline on a continental scale, it did not affect the four range states. In terms of the provisions of the convention, the transfer does not meet the criteria for Appendix 1,” it said.

Zambia, Namibia and China did not support the up-listing. A collection of wildlife NGOs as well Kenya supported the notion, but the Namibian Nature Foundation called it “simple and wrong”.

South Africa reminded the COP that the quality of governance at the country level would be retained and focused interventions with all other countries on the continent had been offered.

Reports published at COP17 showed that southern African countries had managed to keep their populations stable, but runaway poaching was occurring further north.

“It is illogical and South Africa fails to comprehend the reasoning behind the proposal. Don’t punish the countries that have been successful at protecting their elephants,” said the country’s delegation.

Brazil said the elephant was an emblem of conservation but that the Appendix 1 listing in countries had not helped reduce poaching, whereas the range states in Annex 11 had a stable population.

“They don’t reach the criteria for Annex 1 listings and we need to take their positions into consideration.”

Lizanne Nel, conservation manager of SA Hunters, said extensive wildlife areas under private management were about three times bigger than the wildlife area under formal protection by the government.

“The private sector must have incentives to protect wildlife as hunting generates the biggest percentage (70 percent) of the income for this sector,” she said.

Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC’s elephant and ivory expert said any appendice listing was inconsequential to the survival of elephants.

“The real success at this COP was the parties agreeing to a National Ivory Action Plan, which will ensure that those parties that fall along the trade chains through which the greatest volumes of illegal ivory flow, address a series of fundamental issues that facilitate illegal trade.”

Kenya’s Pom Oduo said they were disappointed at the outcome and would appeal in the next few days.

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