Earth Day Network

CITES, IUCN Put Elephants at Center of International Talks

Elephants won at the IUCN, but will it do any good if ivory trade is legalized?

Over the weekend, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) began its 17th meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. This year’s meeting is controversial because the 1989 ban on international trade of ivory is set to expire next year. Some countries, such as South Africa and Namibia, plan to argue against extending it so that they can make money selling their stockpiles of ivory.

 

While discussion of ending the trade ban is worrisome, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future prospects of elephants. With regard to CITES, for example, there are a number of countries, including the United States and Kenya, that are ardently opposed to lifting the moratorium on trade. There are also signs that other countries who have expressed opposition to the destruction of ivory stockpiles in the past, such as Botswana, are not going to support the lifting of restrictions on the trade of ivory.

 

Elephants at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

 

There were also positive signs for the future of elephant conservation at the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) in Hawaii earlier this month. Act 125, which prohibits trade in – including parts and products derived from – any of the 16 species listed in the bill, was passed. And yes, despite there being no wild elephants in Hawaii, they made the list.

 

While most people probably wouldn’t guess it, before this bill passed, Hawaii was actually the third largest market in the country for ivory. That’s a problem because so long as long there is a legal market for ivory–or it is still easy for sellers to exploit legal loopholes–it will be impossible to stop the poaching of elephants. For that reason, Act 125 takes direct aim at one of main threats to elephants and represents a major step forward for wildlife conservation.

 

Noise for Elephants

Another positive sign for elephant conservation came from an off-the-cuff remark by a speaker during a “high-level session” on ending wildlife trafficking at the WCC. The speaker, who apologized for breaking protocol, asked the room to clap if they wanted China to close its legal ivory market. This led the entire room (and it was a large room) to erupt with enthusiastic applause. While nothing concrete was accomplished in that moment, one can hope that it was symbolic of the convergence of views on this subject and represents hope for the long term survival of elephants.

 

Orion Cruz, Deputy Director of Forest and Climate Policy