The African Elephant Coalition has attempted to up-list all African elephants to Appendix I, the strongest possible protection under CITES. Currently, elephants in Africa are split listed with elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in Appendix II which allows trade under certain circumstances.
The AEC has long held the view that if elephants are to be fully protected it is imperative that they be up-listed to Appendix I. The split listing has led to confusion in consumer demand, for instance, the continued trade in ivory in Japan and the continued trade in live wild African elephants.
At CoP17, in 2016 the African Elephant Coalition and Sri Lanka proposed that CITES list all elephants on Appendix 1 the highest level of protection.
At CoP18, in 2019 the African Elephant Coalition proposed that CITES include all populations of African elephant in Appendix I through the transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I of the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The Trade in Live Elephants
At CoP17 held in Johannesburg in South Africa in 2016 the African Elephant Coalition proposed to end the export of African elephants outside their natural range, including export to zoos and other captive facilities overseas. Such exports they believe provide no direct benefit to conservation of elephants in their range states. African elephants along with their ivory should remain in Africa.
At CoP18 the AEC submitted a proposal to CITES aiming to end the export of live, wild caught elephants from Africa to countries abroad to unnatural locations.
The CITES text allowed live elephants listed in APPENDIX II to be traded to appropriate and acceptable destinations however this wording created loop holes which allowed the continuation of the trade in live elephants. The AEC sought to clarify this wording to in situ conservation programmes within their natural range. If this proposal was adopted this wording would stop the trade of live elephants overseas.
Following a historic vote, 46 governments voiced their unequivocal support of the AEC’s proposal to end the trade of live elephants to international locations. Despite this critical victory, it emerged that the European Union hadn’t voted due to voting technicalities.
During the plenary sessions where decisions are reviewed and adopted, the EU reopened the debate and suggested compromised working that would allow live trade only in only in exceptional or emergency circumstances where it provides considerable conservation benefit to elephants in the wild. This wording was agreed and adopted by the CoP.
Importantly at the 31st Meeting of the Animals Committee in Geneva in Switzerland held from the 13th to the 17th July 2020 a comprehensive document was submitted by Burkina Faso and Niger with respect to the Interpretation and implementation matters regarding the Definition of the term ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ for the International Trade in Live African Animals.
In conclusion section of this document paragraph 42. is of particular importance
“The Animals Committee is in the process of developing guidance standards for determining whether a facility that is to receive live African elephants is “appropriate and acceptable” or “suitably equipped to house and care” for them. As this work is ongoing and given the agreement at CoP18 mentioned above for Appendix II specimens, there is a risk that Parties may make decisions that are not science-based and in potential violation of the Convention. As reported above, even when experts have advised that facilities are not suitably equipped to house and care for African elephants, the elephants have been captured and exported/imported to those facilities.”
In 2021 Namibia captured wild elephants and in 2022 twenty-two of these wild-caught elephants were exported to zoos in the United Arab Emirates.