Written by: Adam Cruise
Yesterday Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe’s recommendation for the adoption of a Decision-Making Mechanism (DMM) for a future trade in ivory was roundly rejected by parties, led by outspoken opponents Burkina Faso, Kenya, Republic of Congo and Chad.
Negotiations over the plight of elephants began in controversial style yesterday at the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), taking place in Johannesburg.
A proposal from the Secretariat to extend the mandate to the CITES Standing Committee to continue the debate on the Decision-Making Mechanism failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority.
In 2007, CITES initiated negotiations on a DMM for a process of trade in ivory, which could lead the way towards a reopening of international trade. Debate over the years became protracted and provoked considerable criticism.
The mandate for negotiation was renewed at CITES CoP16 in 2013, and a DMM Working Group established. However, despite extensive debate, no progress has been made to date on establishing such a mechanism.
“These discussions have been going round in circles for nine years without going anywhere,” says Will Travers, President of Born Free, a wild animal and conservation charity, “it’s time to kill this process.”
“If this mandate is not extended, it will die, it will be moribund,” said Jonathan Barzdo, Chair of the Committee discussing the issue. Although the mandate was not extended here this evening, the issue can be revived in the plenary sessions next week, but the mood among the delegations seems to be to swinging toward greater protection of elephants.
“The surge of feeling among African nations we’re seeing here tonight in the rejection of the Decision-Making Mechanism,” says Keith Lindsay, “is a reaction to what they’ve seen happening in their countries – they’ve seen their elephants being wiped out and it’s time to put a stop to it.”
Earlier a report by the CITES Secretariat for the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) disputed the findings of a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which finds a clear link between the legal one-off ivory sales that took place in 2008 and the current poaching crisis that has seen a third of Africa’s elephants wiped out.
The MIKE claim was immediately challenged by a number of CITES member nations as well as conservation NGOs.
Uganda declared the MIKE report flawed, echoed by both Kenya and the NGOs Humane Society International and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, which suggested that the MIKE analysis lacked transparency, consultation and a necessary peer review to make its claims legitimate, and that the authors of the NBER report had in fact answered MIKE’s criticisms.
“The lesson of the NBER study is inescapable,” says Iris Ho, Program Manager, Wildlife for the Humane Society International, “a legal trade, or even talk of one, is a risk that we cannot afford to take.”
Israel went further with its criticism stating: “The MIKE program is not fulfilling the function it was set up to do.” The overall goal of MIKE, according to the CITES website, is to provide information needed for elephant range states to make appropriate management and enforcement decisions. That MIKE, according to the Israeli delegation, won’t recognise the clear link between the one-off sales and the current poaching crisis hampers efforts to effectively combat the scourge.
There were, however, some nations that welcomed the MIKE report. Speaking on behalf of all SADC countries, South Africa’s Minister for the Environment, Edna Molewa, said they “supported the claim that there is no evidence between the one-off sales and the poaching crisis.”
However, Molewa admitted there was a dramatic spike in poaching in Kruger National Park in the last three years. In 2013 the first elephant in 10 years was poached for its tusks. “This year alone,” she said, “36 have been slaughtered.”
The US delegation noted this with concern and pointed out that the increase in poaching was fast approaching the CITES biological criteria of a decline of 50% over three generations, which requires greater protection in the form of a status uplisting for elephants under CITES recommendations.
Currently, elephants in South Africa are classified under Appendix II, which provides for a possibility of a trade in ivory.
An uplisting to Appendix I would provide the highest standard of protection for elephants, and would send a clear message to markets that all commercial ivory trade is prohibited. Currently, elephants in South Africa are classified under Appendix II, thereby facilitating a future one-off sale of ivory around the world.
Patrick Ormondi, head of Kenyan delegation, says, “29 African countries are calling for the highest protection of African elephants, and it seems we are getting much support from other member parties from around the world.”