African ele­phants’ big­gest threats could be politi­cians and bu­reau­crats

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By CHRIS DAVIS in New York chris­davis@chi­nadai­

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 182 coun­tries have been gathered in Johannesburg to take stock on how well we’re pre­vent­ing the planet’s en­dan­gered an­i­mals and plants from go­ing ex­tinct.

It’s called the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, or CITES for short and they pro­vide vary­ing lev­els of pro­tec­tion for 35,000 species.

Big on the agenda at this highly an­tic­i­pated meet­ing has been African ele­phants, which are be­ing slaugh­tered to the brink of ex­tinc­tion for their ivory.

Con­ser­va­tion­ists and con­cerned an­i­mal lovers have been look­ing for­ward to this con­ven­tion to see if the or­ga­ni­za­tion would pull out all the stops and do ev­ery­thing in its to pro­tect ele­phants.

The re­sults have been mixed, and puz­zling. CITES, which was founded in 1973 and kicked into gear in 1975, put all pop­u­la­tions of African ele­phants on its Ap­pendix I — its high­est level of pro­tec­tion — in 1989, ef­fec­tively ban­ning the in­ter­na­tional trade in ivory.

The pro­tec­tion started to erode in 1997 and 2000 when pop­u­la­tions in four African coun­tries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zim­babwe) were notched down to Ap­pendix II to al­low sales of stock­piles to Ja­pan and China in 1999 and 2008.

At the con­ven­tion to­day, a pro­posal to move them (and all ele­phants) back onto Ap­pendix I was de­feated be­cause it failed to get the nec­es­sary two-thirds ma­jor­ity.

How? The Euro­pean Union voted as a bloc to block it, set­ting off a firestorm.

“The Euro­pean Union’s po­si­tion is shock­ing,” said Vera We­ber, pres­i­dent of the Switzer­land-based Franz We­ber Foun­da­tion, which has been cam­paign­ing to pro­tect ele­phants for 40 years. “Their pa­tron­iz­ing and colo­nial­ist at­ti­tude to the vast ma­jor­ity of African ele­phant range states call­ing for an Ap­pendix I list­ing is shame­ful.”

Of the 28 EU mem­ber states vot­ing in the bloc, only France ar­gued to pro­tect the ele­phants. And the UK, ac­cord­ing to some sources, fully backed the EU po­si­tion in con­tra­dic­tion to the coun­try’s pub­lic­ity stunts.

Just last week, for in­stance, Prince Wil­liam gave what the Guardian de­scribed as “a some­times pas­sion­ate speech” be­fore a char­ity group say­ing that he was not pre­pared to be a mem­ber of the gen­er­a­tion that over­sees the ex­tinc­tion of the African ele­phant.

“When I was born there were 1 mil­lion ele­phants roam­ing Africa,” he said. “By the time my daugh­ter Char­lotte was born last year, the num­bers of sa­van­nah ele­phants had crashed to just 350,000.

“And at the cur­rent pace of il­le­gal poach­ing, when Char­lotte turns 25 the African ele­phant will be gone from the wild.”

Aside from leav­ing one won­der­ing what kind of poach­ing is not il­le­gal, the UK not back­ing the top pro­tec­tion sta­tus for all ele­phants is a puz­zle­ment.

“The fail­ure of the EU to sup­port the pro­posal from the ma­jor­ity of Africa’s ele­phant range states was a dis­grace and to­tally out of touch with the wishes of EU cit­i­zens,” said Born Free pres­i­dent and CEO Will Travers OBE. “It was also out of step with much of the world, in­clud­ing big mar­kets for ivory such as China and the USA, which now agree that only a to­tal ban on ivory trade can se­cure a fu­ture for ele­phants.

“Plac­ing all ele­phant pop­u­la­tions back on the CITES Ap­pendix I would have sent a clear mes­sage that ivory be­longs to ele­phants and is not for sale,” Travers con­tin­ued. “The Euro­pean Union’s fail­ure to un­der­stand this is un­for­giv­able.”

Ros­alind Reeve, a se­nior ad­vi­sor to the Franz We­ber Foun­da­tion, took it a step fur­ther. “The blood of Africa’s ele­phants is on the EU’s hands,” she said.

The EU of­fi­cially stated they op­posed the move be­cause the four coun­tries’ ele­phant pop­u­la­tions were show­ing an in­creas­ing trend and there­fore did not meet the cri­te­ria for Ap­pendix I.

“Rec­og­niz­ing the ef­forts made by South­ern African coun­tries to sus­tain­ably man­age their ele­phant pop­u­la­tion and com­bat poach­ing, those coun­tries should bet­ter be en­cour­aged to pur­sue their ef­forts,” the state­ment read.

Robert Hep­worth, for­mer chair­man of the CITES Stand­ing com­mit­tee, fur­ther blasted the EU de­ci­sion, ac­cus­ing them of be­ing “des­per­ate not to of­fend the host coun­try” and ig­nor­ing a mil­lion-strong pe­ti­tion and a res­o­lu­tion from the Euro­pean Parliament.

“The EU’s be­hav­ior to­day made me ashamed to have voted to stay in the EU,” he quipped.

On a happy note, one of the four coun­tries with Ap­pendix II sta­tus — Botswana — said that re­gard­less of the vote, it would treat its ele­phant pop­u­la­tion, by far the big­gest in Africa, as if they were on Ap­pendix I. So there’ll be no ivory com­ing from there any time soon.

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