United States Helps Ring Death Knell for Elephants

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Global Coalition of Animal Protection Organizations Denounce Decision to Resume Ivory Trade

Santiago, Chile -- The Species Survival Network (SSN), a global coalition of 65 environmental, conservation and animal protection organizations denounced as deplorable an historic move today by the U.S. delegation to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that reversed its unconditional commitment to the ban on the international ivory trade.

The move came as the Parties voted on proposals from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to reopen the  international trade in ivory.  The inexplicable move by the United States to support proposals from Namibia and South Africa, if approved by the full CITES conference on Thursday and Friday of this week, effectively signs a death warrant for Africa's elephants and is certain to increase the illegal poaching in that region as well as other elephant range states in both Africa and Asia.

"The only consistent thing about the United States position on elephant conservation and the global ivory trade today is the inconsistency with which the U.S. delegation engaged in the debate," said Susie Watts, Chair of the SSN's Elephant Working Group.

The U.S. voted in favor of allowing the international commercial trade in stockpiled ivory from Namibia and South Africa today, while voting against an identically worded proposal by Botswana.  The U.S. claimed its opposition to the Botswana proposal stemmed from Botswana's rejection of U.S. amendment language.  "The way the US voted, against the Botswana proposal, was right" noted Watts, "but their reasoning seems bizarre. Botswana's proposal was passed despite the U.S. "no" vote.

The message that CITES sends the world, with the full support of the United States delegation, is not in the best interest of elephant conservation.  "When the word goes out that proposals from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa were accepted, the headlines will read, "Ivory Trade Approved," noted Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation and Chairman of the Species Survival Network.  "Poachers, smugglers, and profiteers are not interested in the fine print that outlines the conditions attached to future ivory sales, nor the 18-month delay before any sale can take place.  These unscrupulous individuals will take today's votes as the green light to ply their deadly trade.  I fear greatly for the future of elephants in Africa and Asia," Travers said.

Meanwhile, though every elephant proposal was voted on by secret ballot, the United States announced its voting pattern in a show of transparency. However, such transparency came much too late for the elephants.  "We've been asking the U.S. delegation for its position on the ivory trade proposals for weeks but the U.S. was more tight-lipped and secretive than ever, totally taking itself out of the equation and marginalizing itself throughout the discourse over the previous week," declared a dismayed Adam Roberts, Senior Research Associate for the Animal Welfare Institute.  Roberts continued: "The United States portrays itself as a 'global conservation leader' yet, in my view, the delegation clearly acted irresponsibly during this CITES meeting.

They offered amendments that had not been vetted with ivory trade proponent countries, they did not consult on this issue with major players such as the fifteen-strong European Union, and they did not speak out forcefully enough against the global commercial trade in ivory.  The American public should be outraged by America's impotence and the U.S. delegation should be ashamed that they did not do more at this meeting for the long-term conservation of the African elephant."

Added Mr. Travers: "I understand that the United States has about one million dollars in an African Elephant fund to be used for global elephant conservation projects each year.  Yet every cent of this money could be depleted solely helping under-funded African wildlife law enforcement agencies fight a rising tide of poaching as a result of today's decision.  The money would be better spent sustaining elephant populations and their habitats and assisting communities living alongside elephants."

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Information on the Species Survival Network and on issues under consideration at COP12 is available on the Internet at www.speciessurvivalnetwork.org.