African Countries at Odds over Ivory Trade

22 January 2010

Kenya and Mali are leading an effort to block a proposal by Tanzania and Zambia to change the endangered species status of elephants and sell off stockpiles of ivory.

At a six-day meeting, kicked off today in Brussels, Kenya and Mali will try to convince some 27 CITES member countries to vote against the proposal.

Tanzania and Zambia followed official procedures when they issued their proposal for consideration at the Fifteenth Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties in March. But Kenya and Rwanda say that because Tanzania proposed the one-off ivory sale without consulting neighbouring countries that share elephant populations, they have betrayed the ‘spirit’ of conservation in the region.

The proposal, which was filed on 17 November 2009, seeks to “transfer the population of the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, from Appendix I to Appendix II” of CITES. Because Appendix I species are considered to be “threatened with extinction,” trade is only permitted in exceptional circumstances. However, if the African elephant is moved to Appendix II – species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but could be if trade is not controlled – avenues for trade will likely be opened up.

China and Japan would likely be the sole bidding countries if the ivory goes to auction, as the two countries have convinced CITES that their domestic regulations are capable of ensuring the ivory is not re-exported. These terms are similar to those that were used during a rare 2008 CITES sanctioned ivory auction by Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 31 October 2008, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/cites-sanctioned-ivory-auctions-underway-in-southern-africa).

When Parties to CITES agreed to the 2008 auction at COP 14 in June 2007, a nine-year moratorium on future ivory auctions was included in the deal. Thus, several African countries – including Kenya, Rwanda, Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, and Sierra Leone – say the current proposal should not be considered.

But Tanzania and Zambia are taking advantage of a loophole in the text, which appears to bar only countries that have already participated in a one-off ivory auction. In addition to the 2008 auction, an experimental sale of 67 tonnes of ivory by Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa to Japan took place in 2007. Tanzania is proposing to sell 90 tonnes of government stockpiles originating in Tanzania, while Zambia would like to sell 22 tonnes.

The African Elephant Coalition, a group of 21 member states opposed to the ivory trade, is arguing that the CITES panel charged with assessing the risk posed to elephants is downplaying the fact that auctions such as these can lead to increases in poaching.

The CITES secretariat is required to select an independent team of experts drawn from fields such as elephant biology, wildlife trade, and law enforcement to sit on the panel. However, the Coalition has been critical of CITES’s selection process.

CITES COP 15 will take place from 13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

ICTSD Reporting; “East African battle on sale of ivory to take centre stage at Brussels forum,” DAILY NATION; 18 January 2010; “Kenya angry with CITES over sale of ivory, ‘partisan’ secretariat,” THE EAST AFRICAN, 17 January 2010.

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