EU Fails to Lend Necessary Support to the African Elephant Coalition

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.

  • Phyllis Stuart

    This is OUTRAGEOUS. The EU has a legacy–leaving the elephants to extinction. So, we can simply FEEL BAD, complain and moan all we like, but better to take ACTIONS and so go in the back door. In the past 10 years African elephant populations have declined by around 111,000 as Asian demand and poaching drives the fall. THANK YOU, CHINA AND f-you EU.

  • Phyllis Stuart

    We can remain FURIOUS that 28 states -the EU- determined elephants remain in Africa…OR better yet, let’s go around this CITES authority, work with elephant range countries to PROTECT them…GABON, KENYA, especially need your HELP–Support with TIME–sharing, calling, writing OR with CASH…give THEM YOUR HELP please. F- the EU. THANKS CHINA FOR TRYING TO ERADICATE ALL ELEPHANTS but not on my watch. ELEPHANT DAZE.

  • Tamas Marghescu

    What is it with Kenya and its likeminded states. Kenya has failed to protect its elephants with its protectionist approach, whereas Southern African nations like South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia are celebrating success through sustainable use of their elephant populations: they are growing in numbers! The EU just wishes to acknowledge this success and encourages other countries as Kenya to replicate tge szccess story of Southern African nations. Kenya and likeminded nations, are you independant from animal rights organizations in the north, who have kead you into failure of your wildlife policies? Start libersting yourself from dogmas of failure and look wgere tgere us sucess!

  • Kevin Cartwright

    Should we be surprised the EU has failed in this case. So ineffective on many fronts but on animal welfare issues they are just a joke. The world just seems to stand by and watch some of our most amazing wildlife disappear. It refuses to condemn that most vile of Countries China for its abject cruelty to animals. China WILL be responsible for the extinction of the elephant. The UK refuse to do anything because they don’t want to upset the Chinese. Why – I’d be delighted to!

  • Jean Lau

    I don’t understand why any human being from any country would not want to save elephants in any way which has proven to help.
    .They don’t have many years left to walk on our planet so surely we should ALL be on a mission to save them.
    Some countries think cash NOW is more important than keeping hundreds of animals future on this planet maybe they are the people who voted against.☹️☹️☹️☹️

  • Desmond Lobo

    CHINA has been the major culprit when it comes to illegal trade of any of the endangered species. All in the name of aphrodisiac. Not too sure what they really intend to do with all those erections? As long as you continue to support Chinese trade you will be boosting illegal trade. Bodies like the EU, the trade union, the shipping industries need to put stringent control on shipment and movement of such goods. As for people of Africa… you guys need to learn how to cultivate and find better and sustainable means of income. Killing is just not called for. Remember you are deriving that money from innocent blood.

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