Tanzania, Zambia ivory sales requests fail at CITES

Posted on March, 22 2010

Requests from Zambia and Tanzania to hold one-off sales of their ivory stockpiles failed during a United Nations species trade meeting today that comes during a worldwide poaching crisis.

Doha, Qatar – Requests from Zambia and Tanzania to hold one-off sales of their ivory stockpiles failed during a United Nations species trade meeting today that comes during a worldwide poaching crisis.

Governments participating in the United Nation’s Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) rejected proposals by Tanzania and Zambia to relax trade restrictions on their elephant populations by moving them from Appendix I – the highest level of protection under the Convention banning all international commercial trade – to Appendix II.

The two countries had also initially, asked in addition to their downlisting requests, that they be able to hold a one-off sale of their ivory stockpiles.

No commercial ivory sale is permitted if their elephants remain in Appendix I, but are possible with the Appendix II listing, which allows some regulated international commercial trade.

But neither country was given permission to sell their ivory at this stage or relax trade controls on their elephant populations. The decisions come amid a poaching crisis destroying elephant populations in Asia and Africa.

Governments rejected Tanzania’s downlisting and ivory sales request. They also voted against Zambia’s request to move their elephant populations off Appendix I – a decision which came despite an amendment by Zambia to remove the request for a one-off sale of their ivory stockpiles from their original proposal.

“While the issue of whether sales should be allowed to proceed or not has dominated much of the discussions here in Qatar, WWF and TRAFFIC believe the key driving force behind the ongoing elephant poaching is the continued existence of illegal domestic ivory markets across parts of Africa and Asia,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) also was formally presented to delegates at the meeting.

The report found that the illicit trade in ivory, which has been increasing in volume since 2004, moved sharply upward in 2009 and there continues to be a highly significant correlation between large-scale domestic ivory markets in Asia and Africa and poor law enforcement, suggesting that illicit ivory trade flows typically follow a path to destinations where law enforcement is weak and markets function with little regulatory impediment.

“Poaching and illegal ivory markets in central and western Africa must be effectively suppressed before any further ivory sales take place,” said Elisabeth McLellan, Species Programme Manager, WWF International.

ETIS, one of the two monitoring systems for elephants under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) but managed by TRAFFIC, comprises the world’s largest collection of elephant product seizure records. The latest analysis was based upon 14,364 elephant product seizure records from 85 countries or territories since 1989.

In the middle of a poaching crisis

According to new data released today from park rangers and WWF field staff on the ground in Cameroon, for example, there has recently been an increase in poaching and use of high-calibre weapons.

In February, two unarmed game guards and 14 elephants were gunned down in Bouba Ndjidda National Park in northern Cameroon. During the past few months at least 40 elephants in and around protected areas were killed for their ivory and it is estimated that about 400 elephants have been killed within the last four years in three national parks in Cameroon alone.

The grim situation in Central Africa will not be addressed until domestic markets in that region are brought under control, WWF said. The sight of ivory openly on sale in many cities of Central and Western Africa sends a potent signal to poachers, smugglers and consumers that it is legal to buy and sell unregulated ivory.

Monday’s decisions follow the release last week of a new analysis of elephant trade data showing that coordinated enforcement in Central and West Africa and South-east Asia is crucial to addressing the illicit ivory trade.

Detailed regional summaries of the data held in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the world’s largest database on ivory seizures, highlighted the failure of law enforcement in key elephant range states facing an increasing threat from organised crime and the presence of unregulated markets.

ETIS is compiled by TRAFFIC on behalf of CITES, and comprises more than 15,400 ivory seizure cases compiled over the last 21 years.

The re-analysis of the data was made by region rather than by country, and was carried out to align the data with another CITES-tool used to monitor poaching, which also shows that the Central African region is losing the most elephants.

Elephant tusks taken from a poacher's sack and spread on the ground.
Confiscated tusks, Jengi Project, Cameroon
© WWF / Peter Ngea