THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The United States will continue to strongly support conservation of elephants and monitor closely the impact of a one-time sale of 60 tons of ivory by three African nations to Japan approved this week by the Standing Committee of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The Standing Committee – on which the United States does not currently have a seat – reached its decision at CITES’ 14th Conference of the Parties in The Hague, which began June 3 and will continue until June 15.
“The United States is a major supporter of African elephant conservation and works in partnership with range states to assist in their monitoring, protection, and management," said Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Willens, the head of the U.S. delegation. "While the United States did not have a formal role in this decision, we will continue to work with range states to monitor the impact of the sale both on elephant populations and on the conservation programs in those countries."
CITES is an international agreement signed by 171 nations that is designed to control and regulate global trade in certain wild animals and plants that are or may become threatened with extinction due to commercial trade.
The one-time sale by Botswana, Namibia and South Africa of ivory from elephants who died of natural causes was originally approved at the 12th Conference of the Parties in Santiago, Chile, in 2002. However, the sale was delayed until the Standing Committee affirmed that specific conditions were met, including the establishment of an international monitoring system for elephant populations and strict controls in importing countries.
The United States played a major role in crafting the 2002 decision requiring the conditions that had to be met before the sale could take place and ensuring all proceeds from the sales would be used to benefit elephant conservation in the three countries.
During the Standing Committee meeting, China asked to be approved to participate in the one-time ivory sale. However, the Standing Committee was unable to approve China’s request because of the lateness of the request and the lack of time to consider it.
Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa have put forward a separate proposal that will be considered next week by all CITES’ nations to establish annual quotas for export of raw ivory. The funds raised by these sales would be used to support elephant conservation. In addition, even if the proposal for all four countries is not approved, Botswana is asking for permission for annual sales of up to eight tons of ivory per year, plus sale of hides, leather goods, and live elephants for commercial purposes.
“The United States has yet to take a formal position on the proposal but has not supported annual export quotas in the past,” Willens said. In addition, the United States is concerned that the pending one-time sale be held and its impact on elephant populations determined before any other sales are approved.
The United States also is concerned about the inclusion of Zimbabwe in the proposal because of reports of poaching and lack of protection for elephants in that country.