CITES imposes near total stop to elephant exports


(Posted 28th August 2019)

Emotions ran high during the final debate on proposals made at CITES’s COP18 meeting in Geneva over the pro’s and con’s of trade in elephants and in particular the export from Africa of young elephants to then be kept captivity for the rest of their lives in often very poor conditions.
But when the final votes came in it was a narrow two third majority required with 87 votes in favour, 29 against and 25 abstaining, which saw CITES empowered to halt all elephant trade except for a few exemptions.
The EU as a block, initially sitting on the fence if not leaning towards rejection, managed to insert a few added lines of text into the final document and then voted to support it, clearly also mindful of the very strong sentiments expressed across the European Union about elephant trade.
The vote in plenary altered slightly a decision decided at the start of the 12-day conference which is due to end today, Wednesday, prohibiting the transfer of all African elephants caught in the wild to so-called captive facilities.

Specifically, the countries voted to limit trade in live wild African elephants only to conservation in their natural habitats, basically ending the practice of capturing elephants and sending them to zoos and entertainment venues around the world.

But the EU amendments to the text added a loophole, saying the elephants should remain in their "natural and historical range in Africa, except in exceptional circumstances where … it is considered that a transfer to ex-situ locations will provide demonstrable in-situ conservation benefits for African elephants." This in turn prompted a series of added anti EU sentiments from leading conservationists and public figures who had written to the EU ahead of COP18, urging them to support a total ban.

The clause, which also opened for such transfers "in emergency situations," said the decision should only be made in consultation with the CITES Animals Committee, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) elephant specialist group.

The EU amendment also made clear that African elephants caught in the wild and already in zoos could be transferred to other facilities outside of Africa.