Elephants, The Ivory Trade and CITES
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Elephant protection has been a topic of discussion since the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into force.
Early on, the Asian elephant was place on the "no commercial trade" Appendix I. The African elephant started its CITES existence in the "managed commercial trade" Appendix II.
Concerns about the ivory trade began in 1970s, with a sharp rise in elephant poaching detected across the African continent. At the COP 5 meeting (May 1985) member states began a full investigation, with studies showing that between 1979 and 1987 Africa lost half of its elephant population.
Renewed CITES elephant interest can be traced back to a COP 7 (October 1989) decision to uplist the African elephant to Appendix I (no commercial trade).
At COP 7 (October 1989) member states agreed to move the elephant to Appendix I and enact a world wide ban on the trade in ivory, effective January 1990.
Since the ban, African elephant populations recovered, although exact numbers are disputed. As a result of increasing elephant populations, some southern Africa states, principally Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia claimed that their elephant populations were sufficient to warrant a downlisting Appendix I to Appendix II status. Their request was voted down at the COP 9 meeting, (November 1994), but following rigorous debate and a few rounds of voting, the petitioning states were conditionally granted their downlisting request at COP 10.
Two types of conditions attached to the downlisting merit attention. First Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were granted a one shot opportunity to sell off their already accumulated ivory stocks, to the Japanese market, and the now Appendix II listing for African elephants in these states stipulates a zero quota for ivory trade.
In February 1999, CITES Standing Committee gave the final go ahead and in April of 1999 the trade of raw ivory took place.
A return to any sort of normalcy in the ivory trade would also be contingent on the development and implementation of a system for data gathering and monitoring of both the legal and illegal trade in elephant products.
During the interim between COP 10 and 11, three organizations, the IUCN, TRAFFIC, and CITES began working on a two pronged elephant population monitoring system entitled MIKE and ETIS.
MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants), is a land based information gathering system with a statistical process used to choose 45 locations in Africa and 15 in Asia to personally gather data on elephant populations, especially information on illegal killings and enforcement efforts.
ETIS (Elephant Trade Information System) is a statistics and data base system intended to gather information about all aspects of trade in elephant products, including the number and place of seizures of illegally traded elephant products as well as the course of legally traded products. Implementation is far from complete. Data collection, especially from member states has been slow, unreliable at times, and inconsistent. The hope is for continued improvements as the relevant CITES bodies publicize the system to all relevant member states.
The program's success continues to be questioned, because of ongoing reports of elephant poaching across the African continent.
© 2001-2009. Patricia A. Michaels