is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,
it entered into force in July 1975. It meets every 2-3 years
to discuss how international trade affects plants and animals
populations. There are 151 member countries of CITES. The next
meeting is in Nairobi, Kenya on 10th-20th April 2000.
affords different levels of protection to species depending
on their numbers and how trade between countries affects them.
CITES was set up to conserve species and if there is uncertainty
about the effects of trade, then a precautionary approach should
be taken. Species are assigned to three categories. Commercial
trade in Appendix I species is prohibited, trade is subject
to conditions for Appendix II species and population numbers
for species on Appendix III are monitored.
do some countries want to sell their ivory?
countries that want to sell their ivory stockpiles say that
their elephant populations are increasing and that there is
therefore a continual accumulation of ivory from natural mortality.
They say that revenue generated from the trade will be put back
into elephant conservation and community development programs
and that controlled trade will make elephants valuable to local
decisions made at the last CITES Conference
At the 10th Conference of the Parties, held in Harare, Zimbabwe
in June 1997, three southern African countries put in proposals
to down-list their elephant populations to Appendix II, to allow
an experimental sale of stockpiled ivory to Japan.
reasons they put forward in support of the down-listing included
that their elephant populations were growing, there was a lack
of significant poaching in their countries and they have the
means to look after their elephants.
one week before the CITES conference opened there was a meeting
of the Organisation of African Unity, chaired by President Mugabe
of Zimbabwe. The occasion was an ideal opportunity for Botswana,
Namibia and Zimbabwe to lobby the rest of Africa. During the
conference there was intense lobbying by those who want to re-open
trade, even the local media coverage during the conference was
dominated by pro-trade messages.
many countries were against the down-listings and the proposals
narrowly missed the two-thirds majority that they required to
go through. However it was negotiated that the issue be put
to a second vote. A working part was set up to establish conditions
under which the down-listing would be more acceptable to those
countries worried about how the decision would affect other
elephant populations. The conditions they devised related to
an improvement in the control of illegal ivory trading, re-investment
of the revenue generated into elephant conservation and the
establishment of an international reporting and monitoring system
for illegal trade and poaching. The countries would have to
prove that these conditions had been met at a Standing Committee
meeting to be held 21 months later.
conditions related to revenue generated from the sales being
put back in to elephant conservation. With these provisos in
place the proposals were accepted. The elephant populations
of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were transferred to Appendix
II in September 1997.
of elephant range states met at the end of September 1998 in
Arusha, Tanzania. They discussed the implementation of Decision
10.1 (the conditions pertaining to the resumption in trade in
African ivory from Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) and Decision
10.2 (the conditions for the disposal of other existing ivory
countries expressed concern that the poaching monitoring system,
MIKE (Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants) is predicted
to cost over US$2 million per year, that it may draw funds away
from law enforcement and that it is only sensitive enough to
detect major poaching increases. Similar concerns were said
to have been expressed at an Asian range states meeting in Bangalore,
India in October 1998.
Standing Committee Meeting
41st CITES Standing Committee meeting took place in Geneva,
Switzerland in February 1999. It was the job of the Standing
Committee to verify whether or not certain administrative, technical
and legal conditions relating to the ivory sale had been met.
The UK acted as Chair of this meeting.
monitoring system was not in place and none of the three southern
African countries had joined the Lusaka Agreement, which was
one of the conditions. Burkina Faso, on behalf of 8 range states,
submitted a document asking that the decision to allow the sales
to go ahead be postponed until a peer review of all of the monitoring
options had been carried out.
Standing Committee, although noting the concerns raised by the
range states, decided that Namibia, Zimbabwe and Japan had complied
with the relevant conditions stipulated at the full CITES meeting.
Botswana did not initially meet the conditions, but their compliance
was later said to be verified.
And so the sale was allowed to go ahead
The auction of the ivory took place in April 1999. Namibia
sold 12,367 kg, Zimbabwe sold 30 tonnes, and four days later
Botswana sold 17,170 kg. Over 59 tonnes of ivory was legally
imported into Japan in July 1999 and was unloaded at Tokyo harbour
under UN supervision.
else has been traded?
has been allowed to export elephant hides, ears, trunks and
feet, in June 1998 they sold 82.8 tonnes of elephant hides.
Each year a total of 649 elephant trophies are allowed to be
exported from the three Appendix II countries. From 90 days
after the close of the 10th Conference of the Parties, tourists
have been allowed to export up to US$500 of worked ivory from
live baby elephants were exported from Botswana in August 1998
by an animal trader who intended to sell them into captive facilities
around the world. Due to the torment they suffered at his holding
facility in South Africa, criminal animal cruelty charges have
been brought against him.
of the sale
CITES signatories saw the sale as risky and premature. It is
widely thought that the African elephant population is not ready
for renewed ivory trading even in a limited form. Even though
some range states claim that they have too many elephants others,
such as Kenya, are only beginning to see their elephant populations
stabilise. There are worries that even limited ivory sales send
out the wrong message and that poaching increases in anticipation
of further sales. The KWS said, 'Many African countries fear
that poachers do not understand the complex decision taken by
the parties in 1997, which involved a one off experimental sale
to Japan only'.
1996, the Tanzania High Commissioner, H.E. Dr. A. Sharee stated
'At both these CITES meetings (1992 and 1994), officials in
east Africa stated that they had detected a slight, but very
noticeable, increase in elephant poaching in the months immediately
prior to CITES, which was attributed to proposals to resume
Namibia and Zimbabwe reportedly earned US$5 million from the
ivory sales, the cost to other countries that now have to invest
increased funds in anti-poaching patrols is far higher. When
stockpiled ivory has run out far more than US$5 million will
be needed to protect the elephants of Botswana, Namibia and
it just the African elephant that is affected?
Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, has been listed on Appendix
I of CITES since 1976 as they are only thought to be 34,000-51,000
left in the wild. However, it is difficult to distinguish between
Asian and African ivory and Asian ivory is said to be particularly
attractive to Japanese ivory dealers. Therefore many Asian countries
are opposed to any resumption in commercial ivory trade.
Furthermore, only male Asian elephants have tusks and so any
illegal poaching for ivory has a detrimental effect on the ratio
of males to females.
CITES protecting elephants?
is widespread criticism about the decisions made at the Standing
Committee meeting in 1999. One of the conditions on which the
ivory sale was allowed to go ahead was that a poaching monitoring
system was in place to detect any increase in poaching resulting
from the ivory sale. It is widely recognised that MIKE is not
adequately up and running and will not in fact produce meaningful
results until it has been in operation for 6 years. This did
not prevent the sale going ahead.
was decided at the Standing Committee Meeting that the CITES
Secretariat's Interim Reporting System would be used as a basis
for the decision on whether to allow the sale to go ahead. However
it was originally intended only as a temporary measure and will
not be able to establish poaching trends in a scientific way,
or be able to establish the cause of any increase in elephant
deaths witnessed. This interim system falls short of the requirements
set out at the full CITES meeting.
MIKE system itself is viewed by many to be unworkable. Whilst
many countries are reporting that they have witnessed an increased
elephant poaching they do not have the means to report it to
CITES in the way in which they require it however this
does not mean that it is not taking place. Further criticism
is the vast expense required to finance MIKE over US$12
million, this money could be better spent financing enforcement