Elephants emerge Victorious: Or is it Ivorious?

Sara Drawwater
30 March 2010
If elephants had any idea about the great debate over the recent request from Tanzania and Zambia to sell ivory stock piles, they would have had a few sleepless nights!

If elephants had any idea about the great debate over the recent request from Tanzania and Zambia to sell ivory stock piles, they would have had a few sleepless nights!

At this year’s United Nations Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), Zambia and Tanzania proposed that trade restrictions on ivory be relaxed so that they would be able to hold one-off sales of their ivory stock piles.

The two countries’ request was that their elephants be recategorised from “Appendix I listing” — the highest level of protection under the Convention banning all international commercial trade — to “Appendix II listing”, which allows some regulated international commercial trade. No commercial ivory selling is permitted if their elephants remain categorised in Appendix I, but this is possible if they fall within the Appendix II listing.

However, both requests were rejected by Governments participating in the Convention, which constituted 175 nations. Therefore neither Zambia nor Tanzania was granted permission to sell their ivory or relax trade controls on their elephant populations.

This decision means the 21 year old ban against the international trade of ivory will be upheld by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)* *. It ensures the continued protection of elephants which are under pressure in many parts of Africa from poaching, loss of habitats to farms and towns, pollution and climate change.

Numbers in elephant population are said to have fallen to between 470,000 and 685,000 against millions decades ago. According to a report from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), formally presented during the CITES convention, illicit trade in ivory has been increasing in volume since 2004 and moved sharply upwards in 2009.

The most obvious concern for CITES seemed to be that, with the ongoing poaching and continued existence of illegal domestic ivory markets, allowing this one-off trade of ivory stock piles by Zambia and Tanzania would open up the ivory market and place elephants in further danger.

Zambia and Tanzania’s argument however is that elephant numbers are actually rising and they are a danger to people living in rural areas. According to Zambia’s proposal, “the wild population is large (about 27,000 animals) and steadily increasing.”

Zambia’s Minister of Tourism Catherine Namugala added that many people have been killed by elephants and that children living in areas with increasing population of elephants were not going to school because they were afraid of encountering elephants on the way.

According to Cristine Eva Mambo, a tribal head in Zambia’s Lusaka province, more than 18 people have been killed by elephants over the past three years.

In the struggle between the humans and the elephants, the elephants emerge victorious and can ‘rest easy’ as ivory trade remains forbidden. For now at least.

We invite you to contribute to this debate by leaving comments below, giving your thoughts and feelings about the decision taken by CITES.

Posted by Nambeye Katebe 30 March 2010