During the last couple of months, SCI and SCI Foundation have blogged about issues that are particularly relevant for hunters and will be addressed at the upcoming CITES 17th Conference of the Parties. Previous blog topics include African lion, wood bison, secret ballot voting, and cape mountain zebra. This week’s post is about another iconic species for many hunters: African elephant.
The African elephant has been, without question, the most debated and discussed individual species throughout the history of CITES. For CoP17 alone, 15 proposals and working documents related to elephants or ivory have been submitted, and that does not include proposals related to general anti-trafficking and anti-poaching efforts. No other species comes close to 15 proposals. SCI and SCI Foundation have particular interest in three of the proposals – one that, if adopted, would list all elephants on Appendix I, and two that, if adopted, would allow for commercial sale of elephant ivory.
Currently, elephants in four countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe – are listed on Appendix II. Elephants from all other countries are listed on Appendix I. Several African countries, notably none with elephants on Appendix II, have proposed to list all elephants on Appendix I. If adopted, additional requirements for the importation of all African elephants, including hunting trophies, would be imposed. (For a refresher on the differences between Appendix I and II, read this Q&A list.) While it technically would be possible to export/import hunting trophies of African elephants listed on Appendix I, many countries would likely implement national regulations or policies that prohibit their importation or exportation. At the very least, adoption of the proposal would create higher hurdles for hunters to jump before they can import elephant trophies from Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (and Botswana, if hunting is allowed).
Namibia and Zimbabwe have both submitted technical proposals that would allow each country to engage in commercial sale of elephant ivory derived from their elephant populations. Even though an Appendix II listing does not prohibit commercial use of the species, Appendix II elephants have a special “annotation” that currently prohibits the sale of ivory for commercial purposes. (There have been a few exceptions where limited commercial trade of government stockpiles of ivory has been allowed.) Both proposals would amend the annotation to allow commercial sale.
The three proposals epitomize the battle between sustainable use and protectionism that has gone on in CITES over the elephant since 1981.
Why Hunters Should Care
Hunters should care about the Appendix I proposal for several reasons.
- First, if all elephants are listed on Appendix I, importation of elephant trophies would be significantly harder, if not impossible, for hunters around the world. For many, it would effectively end elephant importation.
- Second, and more importantly, sustainable-use programs that benefit from elephant hunting will suffer. Conservation programs in Zimbabwe have already been detrimentally impacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to prohibit elephant imports from the country. An Appendix I listing for all elephants will exacerbate the problem for Zimbabwe and bring similar issues to other southern African countries. Without the ability to import, many hunters will not hunt elephants and the value of the species across the continent will decline.
- Third, lands currently used for hunting areas will likely be converted to other land uses, such as agriculture, because hunting will no longer be a viable form of land use in many areas.
For similar reasons, hunters should also care about the proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe. Hunters support the sustainable use of wildlife, including elephants, because it is one of the most effective methods of conservation. Sustainable use conservation gives species more value and provides incentives for local conservation efforts. Balancing the demands of elephant populations on the available habitat, which in some cases can be catastrophic, with the costs of conservation and the needs of the people who share their land with elephants, is a challenging task. The ban on the commercial sale of elephant ivory has been in place since 1990, but has been ineffective. In recent years, with the ban in place, elephant poaching was on the rise; although, it may now be leveling off and even (hopefully) declining. Nevertheless, support for the commercial sale of ivory is support for sustainable use conservation, because commercial sales can provide much needed conservation funding.
SCI and SCI Foundation’s Position
Nothing in the Appendix I proposal suggests that the Appendix II elephant populations now meet the criteria for Appendix I. Rather, the proposal focuses on the problems that continue to plague the Appendix I populations in west and central Africa that do not utilize hunting and sustainable use management. The proposal attempts to attribute these issues to the Appendix II populations, even though those countries’ elephant populations are stable or increasing. The proposal is not based on science or principles of conservation, SCI and SCI Foundation oppose it, and the CITES Parties should reject it.
SCI and SCI Foundation support the proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe. Even though the current commercial ivory trade prohibition does not impact hunting trophies, SCI and SCI Foundation support the sustainable-use conservation principles of allowing the sale of ivory for the benefit of the species. Under both proposals, ivory sales would directly fund conservation efforts, for elephants and other African species, and community development. Sustainable use is a proven conservation strategy, unlike the commercial trade ban that has proven ineffective and possibly encouraged increased poaching.
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