As the 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties at CITES kicks off, we look at the KEY FACTS and what it all means for the critically endangered elephants in Africa.
The fate of all African elephants rests in the hands of over 2,000 party members at the 17th CITES meeting and IT BEGINS TODAY (Saturday 24th September).
But what is CITES?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna - thankfully shortened to 'CITES', is an international agreement held between governments.
Presently, CITES consists of 183 countries. These are referred to as 'parties'. They meet on average, every three years to discuss what can be done to prevent endangered species from becoming extinct, through the trade in endangered animal parts. This is to ensure that international trade - the buying and selling of animals, does not threaten their survival in the wild.
CITES regulates trade in over 35,000 species! It lists these species in categories, to make recommendations to party governments about how trade should be managed. These categories are known as Appendix I, II, and III.
Appendix I and II are particularly relevant to the survival of African elephants. They're being continuously hunted by poachers for their ivory and it's now reached a tipping point.
Lets explore these categories further.
If a species is listed under Appendix I : it provides the highest level of protection to an animal, prohibiting all international commercial trade.
If listed under Appendix II : there are fewer restrictions meaning trade IS allowed if it doesn't threaten the survival of the species in the wild.
Today, African elephants are split between categories. This may not make a great deal of sense, and we'd agree. It comes down to the LOCATION of where an elephant and her herd may roam. Some African nations will list elephants as Appendix I and some as Appendix II. This, of course, means there is no UNITY between countries. Ultimately this causes complete confusion and provides the illegal ivory trade with a smokescreen with which to trade elephant tusks into Asia, the United States and Europe (the three largest importers).
What does this mean for an elephant? A matriarch and her family could begin their day in Angola protected under Appendix I, but could wander into Namibia, the same day and be classed under Appendix II.
We're urging for ALL African elephants to be moved to Appendix I. This is achievable, but CITES is only as strong as the commitment of its members.
A contentious past...
I's important to learn about two very significant actions from the past that have had s huge and irreversible effect on the population of elephants.
Southern African countries were given permission to sell their stockpiles of ivory to Japan (in 1999) and both Japan and China in 2008 (following approval in 2002).
From 50 tonnes to 105 tonnes a decade later - both purchases by the ivory importers proved catastrophic for elephants.
The ivory trade surged. Criminal gangs and syndicates took advantage of these legal sales (and other legislation permitting pre-ban ivory to be sold) to produce false documentation for the illegal import of tusks. Effectively, the approved stockpile sales provided the perfect path for a new generation of international criminal gangs and ivory kingpins.
Between 2009 and 2015, Tanzania lost over half of its elephant population. Every 15 minutes, another elephant is slaughtered in Africa. They will be extinct in 25 years unless a mammoth commitment by all nations is delivered. During the next two weeks alone, 1,152 elephants will die across Africa, as the convention takes place.
CITES have a unique opportunity to encourage the world to unite and change the future for elephants, before its too late.
YOU CAN MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD. Have your say... The following MUST be actioned during CITES, if elephants are to survive:
- List ALL elephants under Appendix I : Transferring elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Appendix I, ensuring the highest level of protection by prohibiting all international commercial ivory trade.
- Close ALL domestic markets for elephant ivory.
- Prohibit the export of live African elephants.
Sign change.org 's petition and be a part of a global movement to save our gentle giants.
It takes one minute, so why not add to the pressure mounting on CITES to ban ALL domestic ivory trade:
For more information, on the proposals to be raised at #CoP17 visit:
Proposals 14, 15, 16 are specific to the remaining population of African elephants.
The European Union are finally on board, and as the largest voting block, it's a fantastic turn of events. The EU has released a statement to welcome the proposal for all African elephants to be listed under Appendix I. This is an incredibly encouraging announcement!
All eyes and ears will be on Johannesburg for the next 12 days. Elephants are #worthmorealive Please #JoinTheHerd and keep momentum growing. Spread the word - share, post, RT, Vlog, tweet. The time is now! #EveryEleCounts #CoP17
- Francesca Mahoney
(Founder, Wild Survivors)