Elephant from the Okavango delta in North Western Botswana.
The international trade ban took the form of listing of all
African elephants under Appendix I of CITES (Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna).
By that time Africa's elephant populations had dwindled to half of
what they were in 1975. Eastern and central Africa were hardest hit
and some countries, like Kenya, lost a staggering 80 percent of
their elephants. During the 80s, one hundred thousand elephants
were being killed annually.
In countries with strong wildlife management, the 1990 ban led
to a decline in illegal killing and some herds have recovered. In
the southern African countries the herds are increasing. But in
other nations in western, central and eastern Africa, poaching
continues to be a problem and populations have declined.
Stockpiles sow controversy
After the ban, African nations accumulated stockpiles of ivory.
The tusks come from animals that died naturally or were culled, or
from ivory seized from poachers and illegal traders. With this
magnificent vehicle of wealth idling in storerooms, some African
nations sought to put it into gear. Surely a controlled trade in
this stockpiled ivory couldn't hurt anyone, could it?
Yes, is the unfortunate answer. After the international trade
ban on ivory was eased by CITES in 1997, poaching immediately
increased. And it wasn't only elephants who were falling faster. Up
to 50 park wardens and senior officials were killed each year since
1997. Furthermore, the rise in poaching extended to Asian as well
as African elephants even though CITES has maintained a complete
trade ban on Asian elephants since 1975.
The CITES ban on African elephants was loosened after Botswana,
Namibia and Zimbabwe successfully proposed to transfer their own
elephant populations from Appendix I (bans commercial trade in
species threatened with extinction) to Appendix II (regulates
international trade in threatened species). These countries then
had to meet a set of conditions before they could export a specific
quantity of registered, legally acquired ivory to Japan in 2000.
Which they did.
But the controversial decision to permit ivory sales was quickly
followed by an increase in poaching. In Zimbabwe, 31 elephants were
illegally killed in just a single two-week period.
CITES 2000 gives a respite from the killing
Elephant controversy reared again at CITES in 2000. The meeting
approved a proposal from South Africa to "downlist" their elephant
population to Appendix II. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and
Botswana also applied for the right to sell a controlled amount of
ivory each year; but these countries ultimately withdrew their
proposals before the voting took place.
CITES 2002 bad for elephants
By the time the next CITES meeting came in November 2002,
aspiring ivory traders were still not ready to give up. This time,
the outlook for African elephants dimmed as CITES accepted
proposals for one-off sales from Botswana, Namibia and South
Africa. The sales will be made in 2004 if certain conditions are
met. Proposals from Zambia and Zimbabwe were not accepted.
What does this mean for elephants? With history as our teacher,
we can expect the illegal trade to stalk the shadows alongside the
CITES initiated some tools to address this problem in 2000. It
is implementing new long-term international monitoring systems,
known as MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) and
ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System). However, these programs
are in their infancy, and are currently unable to address the rise
in poaching as the trade ban is eased.
Poaching is not the only threat to elephants. A similarly grave
problem is habitat loss through rising human populations in Africa
and Asia, fuelling conversion of wild lands.
Current protected areas won't solve the problem; 80 percent of
the African elephant's remaining range lies outside protected
areas. This pressure of human numbers, along with declining law
enforcement budgets, corruption, and continued poaching for bush
meat as well as ivory, are all factors that keep illegal elephant
killing widespread in some regions.
We are extremely concerned about the outcome of the decisions at
the CITES meeting in Chile this year which will allow some limited
trade in ivory. It will inevitably lead to an increase in poaching
at the same time.
We are urging African states to closely monitor the well being
of their elephant populations and guarantee strict law enforcement.
They should also undertake every effort to stamp out poaching of