It’s been a mixed week for elephants. In good news, delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, Africa, have rejected attempts to allow legal ivory sales and have recently voted to not only close international markets in ivory but domestic ones too. However, another motion to get all populations of elephants listed as protected has been defeated, in a blow to some conservationists.
Even though an earlier attempt by South Africa to allow for the legal sale of ivory was shot down by an overwhelming majority, they continue to lead the charge of a small band of African nations in attempts to loosen protections on elephants. While most populations of the gentle giants are declining, their numbers are actually stable or on the up in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, which contain about a third of all elephants remaining in the wild.
These African nations argue that while poaching is a big issue for other populations, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict are larger problems for them, and by selling some of their stockpiles, they could fund other conservation initiatives. But evidence suggests that the current spate of poaching that has devastated the global numbers of elephants – which until recently had begun to recover – has its origins in the 2007 legal sale of confiscated ivory, which was intended to cut out poachers and instead backfired spectacularly. Experts believe that the legal sale made it appear more acceptable to buy ivory and thus increased the demand.
Yet, this small band of nations still tried to defend against another motion this week that sought to ban the domestic trade of ivory. Their attempt failed, as delegates in a private ballot voted to ban all domestic ivory trade. While this is not legally binding, and despite protestations from some countries, this is the first time there has been a unified position on the issue.
Some are still not happy with the decision, however, as Japan has already said they will not follow suit. The wording of the new ban states that countries should close markets that are “contributing to poaching or illegal trade”, with Japan claiming that this does not apply to their own domestic markets, despite overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.
The most surprising outcome out of the discussions, however, has been China’s stance throughout it all. The country that often comes to mind when the consumer demand for ivory is mentioned has already followed the US with plans to close down its domestic markets. According to the those involved in the current discussions, reported the BBC, China have actually been pushing for stronger wording on the closure of domestic ivory markets.