Fire burns part of an estimated 105 tons of ivory and a tonne of rhino horn confiscated from smugglers and poachers at the Nairobi National Park near Nairobi, Kenya, in April . Picture: REUTERS
Fire burns part of an estimated 105 tons of ivory and a tonne of rhino horn confiscated from smugglers and poachers at the Nairobi National Park near Nairobi, Kenya, in April . Picture: REUTERS

SA‚ NAMIBIA and Zimbabwe’s recommendation for the adoption of a decision-making mechanism for a future trade in ivory has been roundly rejected by other African countries‚ led by outspoken opponents Burkina Faso‚ Kenya‚ the Republic of Congo and Chad‚ according to the Conservation Action Trust.

Negotiations over the plight of elephants were held at the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites)‚ currently taking place in Johannesburg.

A proposal from the secretariat to extend the mandate of the Cites standing committee to continue the debate on the decision-making mechanism failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority.

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In 2007 Cites initiated negotiations on a decision-making mechanism 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 the 16th Cites conference in 2013‚ and a decision-making mechanism working group was established. However‚ despite extensive debate‚ no progress has been made on establishing such a mechanism.

"These discussions have been going round in circles for nine years without going anywhere‚" says Will Travers‚ the president of Born Free‚ a wild animal and conservation charity. "It’s time to kill this process."

Jonathan Barzdo‚ the chairman of the committee discussing the issue, said: "If this mandate is not extended‚ it will die‚ it will be moribund. 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.

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Keith Lindsay, a project manager with the Environment & Development Group‚ said: "The surge of feeling among African nations we’re seeing here tonight in the rejection of the decision-making mechanism 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) programme 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 nongovernmental organisations (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‚" said Iris Ho‚ the programme manager for wildlife at 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 programme 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‚ will not 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 Southern African Development Community countries‚ SA’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 had been a dramatic spike in poaching in Kruger National Park in the past 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.

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 SA are classified under Appendix II‚ thereby facilitating a future one-off sale of ivory around the world.

Patrick Ormondi‚ the head of the Kenyan delegation‚ said: "Twenty-nine 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."

Source: Conservation Action Trust

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