CITES Gets Tough With Ivory Traders

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 19, 2004 (ENS) - South Africa, Namibia and Botswana have still not been given the green light to sell a total of 60 tons of stockpiled elephant ivory. The three countries had hoped they would be given permission to sell the ivory legally by the 50th Standing Committee for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that concluded a week-long session in Geneva today. But the sale was held up until a list of conditions is met, and meanwhile CITES took steps to end the domestic ivory markets within all African countries.

In November 2002, CITES gave permission to South Africa, Namibia and Botswana to sell their stockpiles of ivory tusks that were confiscated or gathered from elephants that died naturally, but not before May 2004 and not until certain conditions had been met.

There is opposition among CITES member governments to these legal ivory sales. Other elephant range states, led by Kenya, resolved earlier this month that the CITES conditions must be met before the ivory sale is allowed to proceed. Uganda, Ethiopia, Mali, Cameroon, Tunisia and Ghana were parties to this decision.

These countries fear that legal ivory sales will mask illegal ivory trading and poaching of their elephant populations will increase.


This older elephant has survived with tusks intact. (Photo credit unknown)
Before the sale can go ahead, a system to monitor elephant poaching must be in place. That system is called Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), and it still has not reported to the CITES Secretariat on elephant population and poaching numbers that are needed to determine whether poaching of elephants and illegal sales of ivory increase after legal sales take place.

The elephant range states have not provided MIKE with that information, said Kenya in a document submitted to the Standing Committee, so asked thatelephant range states make these reports available 60 days before the next committee meeting

"It is worrying," Kenya said, "that elephant mortality data from range states have not been availed to MIKE Technical Advisory group for scrutiny even from range states that have been implementing the system since 1999."

"The Standing Committee must insist that those countries submitting ivory trade proposal, must have submitted their elephant mortality proposal to MIKE Central Coordination Unit for scrutiny and annual reports from MIKE Central Coordinating Committee circulated to other range states," Kenya said.

Next, a trading partner must be identified that will buy the ivory in a single shipment "under strict supervision of the Secretariat." Botswana has 20,000 kilograms of ivory to sell, Namibia seeks to sell 10,000 kilos, and South Africa has 30,000 kilos for sale.

Once a trading partner has been identified, the Secretariat should provide details to the Standing Committee on how it will strictly supervise the shipment. "It is assumed that the Secretariat will be present both when the shipments are consigned and when they arrive at their final destination," Kenya said.

Another condition of the sale is that the proceeds must be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community conservation and development programs within or adjacent to the elephant range.

But this ivory sale is the second one that CITES has permitted, and Kenya expressed concern that two of the applicant countries for the sale under current consideration - Botswana and Namibia - have not provided an official audit to the Standing Committee on the use of the proceeds from the previous sale in 1999. Zimbabwe has not provided this information from the 1999 sale either, but it is not involved in the current ivory sale.

Kenya said the Standing Committee "should request and receive such a satisfactory detailed, official audit from Botswana and Namibia, demonstrating that proceeds of the 1999 auction were used exclusively for elephant conservation, before allowing additional ivory exports from those Parties under this condition."

Each exporting country should be verified to have to set up a conservation trust fund, into which all revenues from ivory stockpile sales must be deposited and which is managed through a Board of independent Trustees, Kenya said. A representative of the CITES Secretariat should sit on such Boards, so as to facilitate reports back to the Standing Committee.

Kenya cautioned the applicant countries that their planned ivory sale might still be blocked. "On a proposal from the Secretariat, the Standing Committee can decide to cause this trade to partially or completely cease in the event of non-compliance by exporting or importing countries, or in the case of proven detrimental impacts of the trade on other elephant populations."

Meanwhile, another African country has requested CITES permission to legally sell a stockpile of elephant ivory. The government of Burundi made a written submission to sell 16,437 tusks - amounting to 87,562.5 kilos of ivory - a stockpile larger than that of all the three other countries together.

Burundi says this ivory was imported into the country in 1987 before the ban on international trade in elephant ivory was imposed by CITES in 1989.

"The Burundi Government is very concerned about the large ivory stockpiles that are on its territory and wishes to find, in collaboration with CITES, a final and constructive solution to this recurrent problem," the request states.

Burundi says its situation is "exceptional" because the country does not produce ivory and is "not at all familiar with the ivory trade." Ivory no longer passes through Burundi, as Burundi strictly observes the CITES rules against international trade.

This would be a one-time sale, and Burundi government invited MIKE, through the CITES Secretariat, to come to Burundi as soon as possible to carry out an inventory of the stock of seized ivory.

"Such a stock of ivory, worth so much, causes feelings of covetousness in a country where security remains a factor which is not yet back under control, even after the war. The State of Burundi is being pursued by the private owners for the confiscation of their ivory which was carried out illegally in 1987," the request states.

The CITES Secretariat expressed its own concerns on another ivory trading issue - that of CITES member countries with a domestic ivory carving industry and internal ivory trade whose own laws do not allow them to control this trade.

A draft workplan was proposed at the Standing Committee, which will now be discussed and further developed at a meeting of all African Elephant range States if funding for the work is secured.

Cameroon, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Japan, Nigeria, Thailand, Uganda and the United States are cited as Parties whose measures the Secretariat must assess.

After analyzing the situation in all these countries, the Secretariat said it is most concerned about Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti and Nigeria. China was commended for cracking down on ivory traders.

The Secretariat recognized that the United States is "committed to combating illegal trade in ivory," and has made "significant seizures of ivory that was being illegally imported" and investigated "suspicious domestic sales." But the United States does not have all the regulatory measures required under the treaty. The Secretariat has written seeking an action plan, and is awaiting a response.

Any "exploitation of ivory" from elephants listed as endangered on CITES Appendix I is "completely incompatible" with the listing, the Secretariat said.

For Africa, a continent-wide approach needs to be adopted "to bring a halt to once and for all the illegal trade in ivory" at the source, the Secretariat said. It is asking that all African countries with a domestic ivory trade agree to halt all domestic sales of ivory - raw, semi-worked or worked.


African carved ivory tusk (Photo credit unknown)
These countries should introduce legislation making domestic sale of ivory illegal, placing the onus of providing proof of lawful possession upon any person found in possession of ivory for the purpose of transfer, sale, offer for sale, exchange, import or export of or of transporting it for such purposes, the Secretariat said.

All law enforcement and border control agencies should be instructed to enforce existing or new legislation rigorously, and public awareness campaigns publicizing existing or new bans on ivory sales should begin immediately.

The Secretariat asked for a report on the implementation of all these measures by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the Secretariat will publicize the halting of domestic ivory sales in Africa through contacting relevant organizations such as airlines and IATA. It will also, via ICPO-Interpol and the World Customs Organization, communicate with the heads of police and Customs authorities in Africa, advising them of this initiative.

In early 2005, the Secretariat will undertake work, including verification missions, to assess Parties’ implementation of these measures. Priority will be given to those Parties that are identified during research by the Secretariat and through other appropriate sources of information to be actively engaged in trade in ivory - Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti and Nigeria.

If they are found in violation, CITES can issue a notification to all Parties advising that all commercial trade in specimens of CITES listed species should not take place with the Party in question.

Conservation groups expressed support for CITES plan to stamp out domestic ivory trading. WWF and TRAFFIC welcomed the recommendations adopted by the CITES Standing Committee meeting to develop a detailed workplan aimed at halting uncontrolled domestic sales of ivory in Africa. They believe that the presence of these ivory markets "directly fuels the illegal killing of elephants and undermines conservation efforts for the species throughout Africa."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was pleased with the CITES move to put an end to domestic ivory sales. "IFAW commends the Standing Committee's recommendations with respect to tightening up mechanisms to control domestic ivory markets and the determination of detrimental impact resulting from trade or decisions around trade," said Peter Pueschel, IFAW's program manager on wildlife trade.

"It is imperative that stringent conditions for trade and verification of those conditions are met by both the export and import countries before any ivory trade proceeds."

"Compounded by the lack of domestic legislative, regulatory and enforcement control in both Asian and African countries," Pueschel said, "any form of legal trade provides cover for the trafficking of illegal ivory from threatened populations of wild elephants."

TRAFFIC and WWF said they hope that the final workplan will include strong actions to address the problem of uncontrolled domestic ivory markets, which have been shown to be the main driving force behind the illicit trade in elephant ivory internationally. This would allow African countries to act together as a continent and support each other in their efforts to curtail this trade.