By Katarzyna Nowak and Keith Lindsay
The European Union (EU) – a regional economic integration organization of 28 member states – became the 181st party to the major wildlife treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in July 2015. This month became the first time the EU votes as a block at a Conference of the Parties (CoP) of CITES.
This 17th CoP provides an opportunity for the EU to show support and solidarity for another union of countries: the African Union (AU), which recently developed a common, coordinated strategy to combat illegal wildlife trade. However, the EU are dropping the ball.
The EU itself has in recent years embarked on an expensive effort to restore large mammals throughout the continent in an effort dubbed “Re-wilding Europe”. They are trying to rebuild their ecosystems trophic level by trophic level. In the meantime, three out of four African regions still inhabited by megafauna have united to take preventative actions to their continent’s defaunation, caused by threats including international wildlife trade.
The African Elephant Coalition (AEC) now comprises 30 countries (most recently Angola) – 27 elephant range States and three non-range State members. Its mission is to have “a viable and healthy elephant population free of threats from international ivory trade.”
Elephants have been split across two CITES Appendices – I and II – since 1997 and 2000 when four southern African countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe — achieved the lower Appendix II listing for the purpose of experimental sales of their ivory stockpiles to the Far East. These stockpile sales were a major factor in the upsurge of elephant poaching since 2008.
At this CoP, the AEC have been presenting a suite of proposals to better safeguard elephants, declining across the continent because of illegal killing for their ivory. One of these proposals advances the case for transfer of all African elephants to CITES Appendix I, the strictest level of protection prohibiting trade. (See: “Breaking: Pro-Ivory Trade Country’s Change of Heart Upends Elephant Debate“)
The AEC has support from a range of CITES parties including countries as diverse as China, Costa Rica, France, Israel, and the United States. On October 3, the AEC need the backing of the EU block vote, which would help provide the two-thirds majority required for an Appendix I uplisting.
Despite overwhelming evidence presented by the AEC for an Appendix I listing, the indications are that the EU will fail to support them and condemn the AEC to a future re-wilding project of their own – one that they are unlikely to ever afford.
Updated on October 7, 2016: The proposal to uplist all African elephants to CITES Appendix I did not pass. Learn more from a member of European Parliament here: Golden opportunity to end the illegal ivory trade wasted.
Katarzyna Nowak is a Research Associate in Zoology at the University of the Free State, Qwaqwa, South Africa, and Keith Lindsay is a collaborating researcher with the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya.