The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: CITES Convention ?Fails to Protect the African Elephant?

The Kenyan delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Kenya Elephant Forum members' hopes were dashed in the first few days of the convention in Bangkok, Thailand. The Cites conference was held from March 3-14.

Several conservation and animal welfare organisations which attended the conference said they were outraged by the failure of Cites to stop elephant poaching particularly in Africa.

Instead of demanding an end to the markets driving the slaughter, the conservationists say Cites Parties came up with weak compromises in a feeble attempt to stop the poaching.

The groups include Youth for Conservation from Kenya, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (United Kingdom), Elephant Advocacy League (United States), Environmental Investigation Agency (United Kingdom), Foundation Franz Weber (Switzerland), International Ranger Federation (Australia), Last Great Ape Organisation (Cameroon), Pro Wildlife (Germany) and Robin des Bois (France).

"The only way to stop the killing and to save the world's elephants for future generations is an immediate, comprehensive, and indefinite ban on international and domestic ivory trade," said the groups in a joint statement. "One-off sales, monitoring poaching, reporting requirements, missions to inspect schemes to regulate ivory markets - none of it has worked to end the slaughter of these African giants."

Not only were Kenya's main proposals rejected at the convention, her image was also tarnished. Kenya was named among eight countries that may be subjected to global wildlife trade sanctions due to the ongoing poaching and illegal trafficking of wildlife products mainly ivory and rhino horn. Kenya was mentioned regarding global illegal ivory trade as a source and transit point.

But KWS spokesman Paul Mbugua downplayed the claims, saying Kenya's proposal to fight elephant and rhino poaching had won backing at the just concluded international meeting on wildlife trade in Thailand.

He said the standing committee had agreed that 'Action Plan' described in Kenya's proposal be implemented and reviewed in 2014.

The committee resolved that if those plans are not completed as envisaged, sanctions against the offending country, or countries, be taken from July 2014.

The countries mentioned in this resolution include the supply states of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the consumer states of China and Thailand and ivory 'transit' points Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Cites secretary general John Scanlon was quoted saying the deadline is 'real'. "The eight states are prepared to do more and be measured against that," he said.

"There is also recognition that a failure to take action... the standing committee may consider compliance measures. And, the ultimate sanction under our convention is a trade suspension."

Kenya had earlier withdrawn a proposal that sought to amend provisions covering elephant and rhino ivory trade. The provision included a decision to deny elephant range states from presenting a proposal to trade in ivory from its animal population until a nine-year ivory trade suspension agreed to at the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in 2007 at the Hague, the Netherlands, ends in 2017.

Kenya's proposal had been submitted jointly with Burkina Faso, Togo and Mali. The proposal followed information that Tanzania would be submitting to the CoP16 in Thailand a proposal seeking to be allowed to trade in more than 100 tonnes of national stockpile of ivory.

According to a new report entitled 'Elephants in the Dust-The African Elephant Crisis', increasing poaching levels, as well as loss of habitat are threatening the survival of African elephant populations in Central Africa as well as previously secure populations in West, Southern and Eastern Africa.

The report - produced by the UN Environment Programme, Cites, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network - says systematic monitoring of large-scale seizures of ivory destined for Asia is indicative of the involvement of criminal networks, which are increasingly active and entrenched in the trafficking of ivory between Africa and Asia.

And despite an early discussion in Cites on potential trade sanctions against countries failing to regulate their ivory markets, governments did not enact those rules against offenders including Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria and Uganda.

Governments instead directed those countries to identify actions and deadlines to ensure progress in controlling illegal ivory trade before July 2014, with the potential threat that they could face trade sanctions then if there was no significant improvement in the situation.

The nine countries were given just over a year to show improvements in their performance.

"Cites is sticking band-aids on with one hand and fueling poaching with the other. Its failure to combat the fundamental driver of the killing amounts to gross international negligence," says Dr Rosalind Reeve of DSWF. "Elephants are the symbol of Cites. They are the heart of the convention. But that heart is dying a slow and painful death," Reeves adds.

"We're disappointed by the lack of urgency from governments to speed up the sanctions process against countries that have failed to act for years to curb the illegal ivory trade in their countries, while the slaughter of thousands of elephants continues in Africa," said Carlos Drews, head of WWF's Cites delegation. "However we will be watching to see that Cites holds these governments to account in the coming year."

Steve Itela, director of Youth for Conservation, weighed in: "Evidence is irrefutable that China bears the main responsibility for the elephant poaching crisis yet it continues to hide behind a facade of denial... China could end the killing by immediately closing its domestic ivory markets and severely punishing citizens engaged in illegal ivory trade. But it chooses ivory trinkets for a luxury market over live elephants."

The director of Robin des Bois, Charlotte Nithart, adds: "Any further discussion of legalising ivory trade is a recipe for extinction... Just as the legal trade in cigarettes, medicines, and weapons has not stopped them being smuggled, the legal trade in ivory has not stopped the slaughter of elephants and smuggling of their ivory."

"Any discussions on legalising trade in wildlife products be it ivory, rhino horns, or tiger parts is stimulating demand," explains Mary Rice, executive director of EIA. "Such rhetoric must cease immediately if we are to reverse the trend toward extinction of these and other species."

Shruti Suresh, a wildlife campaigner, says parties at the conference failed to take stock of the impact of the previous ivory sales they had authorised.

Thailand, which was named as a destination for smuggled ivory together with China and Vietnam, pledged to start a legislative process to end ivory trade in the country, seizing a key opportunity to stem global wildlife trafficking at the opening of the convention.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said it was looking forward to ending ivory trade after a petition calling on Thailand to ban its ivory trade. This is the first time the Thai government has publicly talked of ending the trade.

"As a next step we will forward amending the national legislation with the goal of putting an end on ivory trade and to be in line with international norms," Shinawatra said. "This will help protect all forms of elephants including Thailand's wild and domestic elephants and those from Africa."

Officials say an increase in demand for ivory in Asia, where elephant tusks are used in traditional medicines and to make ornaments, has led to a substantial increase in the killing of elephants in Africa.

Ending ivory trade in Thailand - currently the world's largest unregulated ivory market - will go a long way in stemming a global poaching crisis.

Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct says as long as the legal trade in ivory is promoted in China by the state, its demand will continue to grow and this is what threatens Africa's elephants.

"Failing to address the problem at its source, the legal trade of ivory in China, means that China is missing an opportunity to stem the devastating loss of elephants in Africa," she says.

Given the economic value of China's investments in Africa, and the good reputation that she has created through mainly infrastructure projects, China's stubborn refusal to take responsibility for stopping the elephant slaughter could ultimately undermine the good relations that China has with African governments.

"We may begin to witness angry public demonstrations against China, trade with China and even jobs for Chinese in Africa, which would tarnish the good image that China seeks to create in Africa," says Paula.

In 2012, Kenya lost approximately 360 elephants to poaching, a figure that rose from 289 the previous year, KWS said. At least 40 poachers were killed last year as rangers battled the raiders.

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