Southern Africa: Ivory Trade - Cites Fail to Back SADC Again

African elephants at the Hapoor water hole in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
26 August 2019

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) has once again failed to agree on proposals to reopen trade in registered raw ivory.

Governments voted on two alternatives to the existing Cites' ban on commercial ivory sales, but none gained a majority. According to reports, SADC countries, the main proponents of the changes, reacted angrily to the outcome from the Cites conference currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland.

The votes on Thursday are legally-binding, meaning elephant range states will remain stuck with hundreds of tonnes of unsold ivory, the sale of which is billed as a major source of funding for improving elephant welfare and protection.

Proposals that would have enabled Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to resume trade in ivory to Cites-approved countries were turned down by a vote of 101 to 23, with 18 abstentions.

Last minute attempts by the four Southern African nations to water down their demands failed to sway the vote in their favour. The SADC neighbours amended their original proposal on the floor to provide for a once-off sale of their ivory stockpiles to approved nations, with a six-year moratorium after that sale on any further sales.

Even that was shot down, largely by a partisan and puppet (African Elephant Coalition, specifically) crowd bereft of scientific evidence, just irrational and immoral pontifications.

Zambia proposed that its elephants be downgraded from Appendix I to Appendix II, which would have allowed the country to trade in its registered raw ivory commercially, including the sale of live animals.

The plan fell through in a vote of 102 to 22, even when Zambia amended its proposal midway through the deliberations "to delete sales of raw ivory and include only hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes, and trade in hides and leather goods from elephants controlled as a result of human-elephant conflict." Thirteen state parties abstained.

Those in favour of ending ivory trade argue that doing so will fuel illegal killings of the African Elephant, a species considered at the risk of extinction under Cites.

The Southern African ivory proponents will now reflect on the outcome individually or as a group, to decide what to do, and possibly whether to pull out of the Convention.

The countries have never issued such a threat, at least in plain language, but this is something for them to think about in light of recent developments, and especially given all their pre-conference tough-talking has come to naught.

There's no deadline on what action the five countries can take, but it seems plausible to conclude that the door on controlled commercial ivory trade within the precincts of the Cites may now have been permanently shut. It is hopeless to continue to hope for change this way.

Attempts by Zimbabwe and her friends to engineer change from within have repeatedly failed, just as much as what happened at the South African leg of the Cites conference three years ago, even with the expiry of the 2008 ten-year moratorium was well within sight.

It is heart-breaking for the proponents really, having on the one hand to shoulder the burden of conserving the world's biggest elephant population on a shoe-string budget, and on the other contend with an obdurate animal rights constituency and a 32-nation puppet coalition feeding on the crumbs of Western capital.

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