The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has urged African range states to arrive at a common elephant conservation goal even as the world celebrates World Elephant Day.
It comes at a time when Parties push for opposing agendas at the 18th Conference of Parties to CITES in Switzerland this month.
AWF counsels against Proposals 11 and 12, which are petitioning for the reopening of ivory markets and the movement of elephants in Southern Africa to stricter protection in Appendix I respectively, noting that neither petition advances conservation of the iconic species across the continent.
In Proposal 11, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe have petitioned CITES—Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—to amend an annotation in Appendix II listing, which would allow for more unqualified trading of elephant ivory from these countries.
AWF opposes the re-opening of legal ivory markets arguing that it will only add fuel to the black-market trade and further jeopardise struggling elephant populations on the continent.
According to AWF vice president for Species Conservation and Science Philip Muruthi, reopening international trade in elephant ivory will have the unintended consequence of escalating poaching rates as traders scramble to fill the demand.
This will be a big step backward in the conservation of elephants on the continent.
He said: “Any legal international trade will open the possibility of illegally obtained ivory entering the market further endangering the elephants across Africa.
“Furthermore, China and many other CITES Parties are closing their domestic ivory markets after the last CITES meeting in 2017.
“AWF urges African elephant range States to consult broadly amongst themselves during the development of proposals to alter CITES Appendices.”
He notes that reopening a legal channel to offload ivory will have the net effect of pushing back the gains that Southern Africa countries and the rest of the continent have made with elephant conservation by once again sparking a poaching crisis that could see elephant herds decimated.
Dr Muruthi added: “AWF strongly recommends that all ivory stockpiles be destroyed, and a domestic moratorium on ivory trade be established within each country without delay.
“These actions eliminate the possibility of an ivory marketplace, remove the economic incentives that are driving poaching, and prevent illegal ivory from being trafficked under the cover of a legalised trade.”
AWF also recommends rejection of Proposal 12 to transfer the elephant populations in Southern Africa from Appendix II to Appendix I in order to prohibit all forms of trade, saying that it would be unnecessarily antagonistic as the populations do not meet the criteria for inclusion into Appendix I, which offers the highest protection.
“These populations do not meet the criteria for Appendix I listing. Further information should be provided, such as through the African Elephant Specialist Group’s report to CoP18, to enable the Parties to decide,” said Dr Muruthi.
He instead advises all elephant range states to work towards a common African voice regarding elephant conservation so as to avoid opposing strategies, which make conservation interventions and management difficult across the continent.
“AWF urges a Pan-African approach that is based on science and focuses on the needs of the species as a whole; Africa must come together on these issues with urgency and in unified spirit,” he added.