Pro-Ivory Trade Botswana Change of Heart Led to the Failure to Revive the Trade
During the CITES meeting, a heated debate sparked over the proposal to ban the trade, presented by 12 other African elephant range states and Sri Lanka, by listing all elephants under CITES’ Appendix I, which prohibits any and all trade in ivory and live animals. Namibia and Zimbabwe retaliated by proposing to keep their elephant populations under Appendix II, where the species are currently listed, and suggested to adopt a mechanism for a future trade in ivory.
It was at this time that Botswana, the country with the largest remaining number of wild elephants (130,000 according to the Great Elephant Census), announced its support behind the proposal to end trading elephant ivory for food. Which was a surprise because prior to its announcement, Botswana was a clear supporter for a sustainable ivory industry.
Tshekedi Khama, Botswana’s Minister of Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism said at the conference, “Although Botswana supported the idea of limited, legal ivory sales from countries that managed their elephant herds sustainably, we now recognize that we can no longer support these sales,” he said. “We must unite [in] solidarity with our colleagues regionally and worldwide to stop this crisis.”
Botswana, along with Namibia and Zimbabwe, had been allowed to sell part of its large ivory stockpile to Japan in 1999, and, in 2008, South Africa joined the trio to sell to China and Japan. According to a recent study, these two sales provoked a dramatic acceleration in elephant poaching across Africa.
Khama continued saying that “there is a clear and growing global consensus that the ivory trade needs to be stopped if elephants are to be conserved effectively.” Later in an online statement, he added: “We therefore support a total, unambiguous, and permanent ban on the ivory trade.”
The move puts Botswana against the rest of its southern African counterparts, who continue to support limited legal ivory sales.
Mike Chase, director of Elephants Without Borders, a Botswana research-based organization dedicated to wildlife conservation, praised Botswana’s realignment, describing it as “a giant leap to curb the slaughter”.
Every year, approximately 30,000 elephants are killed from poaching for the illegal ivory trade. Results from a new report by the IUCN, released during the CITES conference, reveal that roughly 30% of African elephants have been wiped out since 2007. It also notes that while poaching in southern Africa has not had the same impact as in other areas, Botswana and its neighbors are now being targeted extensively by wildlife traffickers.
Though Botswana’s 130,000 elephants represent a third of the population, Khama states that “since the previous elephant census in 2010, [Botswana] lost 15% of [its] elephants, and the carnage continues.”
“That’s roughly 20,000 elephants killed for their tusks in just five years,” says Chase. “It’s the equivalent of South Africa’s or Namibia’s entire elephant population.”
In his statement, minister Khama also praised the African countries that submitted the total ban proposal, as well as consumer countries like China, France, and the U.S. for supporting it.
“Put simply,” Khama told the conference committee, “a threat to elephants anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere. There is no time to waste. Botswana unequivocally supports the proposal to list African elephants under Appendix I.”
But, Botswana’s statement was not enough to persuade nations to pass the proposal to permanently ban the ivory trade. Some blame the European Union, which voted as a bloc of 28 countries, for the proposal’s failure. The EU argued that certain elephant populations are too strong to justify their inclusion on the list.
But, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also voted against the proposal after Namibia and Zimbabwe both threatened to resume ivory trade outside of the CITES legal regime if protections were added.
“We applaud the leadership and dedication of…the proposing and supporting range states,” a statement from the Fish and Wildlife Service said. “However, the United States voted no on this proposal because it opened up the potential that member nations would take a reservation and use a victory on Appendix I uplisting as a back door to resume trade.”
The World Votes to Keep Rhino Ivory Sales Illegal
White rhinos, the largest of the five species, are also the most abundant, with 20,400 remaining (about ⅔ of the total population). They are found in nearly a dozen African countries, with South African home to 70%. Though declared a conservation success after being hunted to near extinction toward the end of the 19th century, the animals are severely threatened again. Wealth in Vietnam and China has boosted demand for horns. Last year alone, poachers shot and killed more than a thousand rhinos.
At the CITES meeting, Swaziland submitted the proposal to allow the country to sell its white rhino horns across borders. The nation’s representative, Ted Reilly, argued during the debate that the sales would bring in much needed money for wildlife conservation and that the ban “is not working.
Swaziland, home to 73 white rhinos, said that the proceeds from the sale of stocks would raise approximately $9.9 million at a price of $30,000 per kg. Placing it in an endowment fund would yield approximately $600,000 annually. It also asked to sell another 44 pounds per year by cutting the horns off live rhinos, a procedure that can be performed on sedated rhinos. The funds would allow for increased conservation measures and provide incentives for local people to give their support, argued Swaziland.
South Africa and other pro-ivory trade countries also supported the proposal. A representative from South Africa asserted that “a sustainable and non-detrimental trade in rhino horn is possible under the right conditions”.
However, with a 26-100 vote, with 17 abstentions, the committee rejected the measure on Tuesday to allow a trade in white rhino horns. This ruling will keep the prohibition of sales of rhino horns across borders, which has been in force since 1977, to remain in place.
Leigh Henry, a senior policy advisor for the World Wildlife Fund, said “Our concern is that legal trade right now would confuse consumers and undermine demand reduction efforts of not only conservation organizations but governments as well.” She applauded a measure passed by the parties that allows CITES to crack down on Mozambique and Vietnam – the biggest hub of illegal hub of illegal rhino horn trafficking – if they don’t intensify enforcement efforts.
If it had passed, Swaziland’s trade proposal could have paved the way for neighboring South Africa to at some point sell horns from its stockpile, which is much larger than Swaziland’s. South Africa’s Private Rhino Owners Association estimates that its members have about six tons of rhino horn and that the government has close to 25 tons.
Everyone agrees that conservation efforts need to be stepped up and better surveillance introduced. But all are faced with the same problem. Like Tom Milliken of the international trade monitoring group TRAFFIC asked after the vote: who will pay for it?
Loopholes in Lion Protection Means Threats Remain
Though proposals to revive ivory ban have been shot down, stronger measures to protect African lions from commercial trade failed to pass. The parties rejected the decision to upgrade the status of lions from Appendix II to Appendix I.
The decision may seem disappointing at first glance. The lion has undergone widespread decline throughout Africa due to habitat loss, illegal bushmeat trade, and retaliatory killing by people protecting their livestock. Although the species may not be in immediate danger of extinction, upgrading some lion populations to Appendix I was warranted.
However, the decision came with supporting reasons. Strengthening the ban would not have eliminating the trade in lion trophies from sport hunting. Legal trade in hunting trophies is readily accommodated by CITES, regardless of the Appendix on which a species is listed. For example, both the cheetah and leopard are included on Appendix I, yet exports of trophies are permitted by a number of countries.
Nor would an Appendix I listing prevent the trade in captive-born lions or their parts. So an upgrade would not necessarily have affected South Africa’s ongoing trade of lion bones scavenged from canned hunts of captive-bred lions. Full skeletons, minus the skull which the hunter usually keeps, are legally sold to Laos, China, and other Asian nations that value big cat parts for “medicinal” use, despite the lack of evidence demonstrating any value.
However, CITES has adopted a new resolution to ban all trade in wild lion parts; specifically bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes.
Unfortunately though, a loophole that perpetuates South Africa’s lion farming industry has been left open. The legal trade in bones perpetuates the demand for big cat parts and these bones are largely indistinguishable except for experts.
Deciding what is a lion or tiger, and legal versus illegal, presents a formidable challenge for local authorities in Africa and Asia. This means that there will inevitably be an escalation in wild African lions being killed and sold in the captive bone trade.
Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) both criticized the CITES decision.
Masha Kalnina, international trade policy specialist of Humane Society International, commented: “It’s a bitter disappointment for the future survival of African lions that despite estimates of there being less than 20,000 of these magnificent wild cats left in the wild, CITES parties today only agreed to the absolute minimum actions available under CITES to protect them.
While we were encouraged that CITES Parties agreed to prohibit commercial trade in wild lions and lion parts, they utterly failed to adequately address the trade in lion bones, skins, teeth, claws, and other parts sourced from South Africa’s extensive captive lion breeding farms, which is where the vast majority of the trade is coming from.
This means, for example, that if a hunter kills a captive lion in a ‘canned hunt’ in South Africa or elsewhere, any unwanted bones from the ‘trophy’ can be sold commercially and help fuel a largely Asian traditional medicine market demand for big cat bones.
Instead of giving lions the maximum protection of an Appendix I uplisting, they have been left on Appendix II, and instead of stamping out the main source of commercial trade in lion parts, CITES Parties have left it wide open.”
IFAW warns that with lions already facing threats from habitat loss and retaliatory killing for attacking livestock, trade in products, and trophy hunting will only further diminish numbers. In the past 21 years, population size has already been reduced by 43% and lions occupy only 8% of their historic range.
Jeffrey Flocken, IFAW’s North American regional director, said: “CITES parties have failed to realise how dire the situation has become for African lions and that immediate action is necessary if we want to avoid further decline of their already significantly reduced population numbers.”