Bangkok, Thailand—The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted in a late night session to deny Namibia an annual quota of 2,000kg of raw ivory and an unlimited quantity of worked ivory jewelry, known as "ekipas." The decision could have serious, long-term, and positive implications for elephant conservation across Africa.
"I can't put it any more plainly," said Adam Roberts, Executive Director of the Animal Welfare Institute, "the Parties to CITES have spoken unequivocally to deny additional ivory exports and prevent a return to the days when elephants were brutally slaughtered to create ornamental trinkets." Further, Roberts concluded, "the very idea of stimulating a market for ivory is perplexing and worrying, since the African elephant range States at a recent meeting declared 'a strong cause for concern with regard to illegal killing' of elephants—particularly in Central Africa, including in protected areas—and 'a strong connection' between that killing and unregulated ivory markets."
Neither an annual raw ivory quota nor exports of worked 'ekipas' received even simple majorities when the votes were taken in Committee. "In an overwhelming show of solidarity with African nations, delegates from India, Mali, the European Union, Israel, Kenya, and others voted nearly 2-1 to resoundingly reject the ivory trade," commented Will Travers, CEO of the UK-based Born Free Foundation and President of the Species Survival Network. "We congratulate all those who spoke out for true elephant conservation."
The annual ivory quota was requested by Namibia, despite the fact that previous ivory sales, approved by the Conference of the Parties, have been delayed due to global non-compliance with the conditions required to permit trade to commence. "Namibia's proposal for an annual quota," Roberts added, "is, in a word, premature. The legitimate fears of East, West, and Central African ranges States have been heard. Their ongoing struggle to prevent the further decimation of their elephant herds by ivory poachers would have been made intolerable had trade been approved."
The serious problem caused by high volumes of ivory in unregulated domestic markets around the world was a constant concern voiced by many delegates, including those of the European Union, which finally confirmed its opposition to any trade in elephant ivory products. "The arrival of United Kingdom Environment Minister, Elliot Morley, earlier in the day, seemed to add much-needed backbone to the EU's rather lackluster and tentative performance," concluded Travers.
Travers summed up the very real fears shared by those who work on the front line of elephant conservation. "Had Namibia's proposal been approved, regional and international demand for ivory, including ekipas, could have lead to continent-wide elephant poaching and a return to the days when elephant carcasses unceremoniously littered the African savannah. Africa cannot stand another assault on its elephants."