Despite a surprise endorsement from Botswana, a proposal for a permanent ban on international trade in elephant ivory was defeated by the crucial bloc vote of the European Union at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg yesterday.
Delegates from the 158 countries attending considered a proposal spearheaded by the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) to list all African elephants in Appendix I, the highest level of protection under international law, but it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds majority with a vote of 62 to accept and 44 to reject.
The European Union participating as a full Party with 28 EU Member States in one voting bloc, voted against the AEC proposal, delivering a death-blow to Africa’s elephants.
“The European Union’s position is shocking, said Vera Weber, President of Fondation Franz Weber, one of the organizations providing technical support for the proposal. “Their patronizing and colonialist attitude to the vast majority of African elephant range states calling for an Appendix I listing is shameful. Even Botswana has come out in favor of an up-listing to Appendix I and still, they do not listen.”
Just before voting an impassioned plea from Botswana, one of the four countries whose elephant populations are currently in Appendix II and home to one-third of the continent’s elephants, surprised the room by coming out in favor of the AEC up-listing proposal.
“We unreservedly relinquish that status and support up-listing of all African elephants to Appendix I,” said Tshekedi Khama, Botswana Minister of the Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. “Although Botswana has previously supported limited trade, we recognize we can no longer support the sale of ivory; we cannot deal with this issue in a vacuum.”
“All the countries in the European Union voted down the most important proposal at this Conference to protect elephants, and they will bear a heavy share of responsibility for the consequences,” said Robert Hepworth, former Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and Senior Advisor to David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, a UK based-organization working closely with the AEC member parties. “The EU’s behavior today made me ashamed to have voted to stay in the EU.”
The USA and China also voted against the motion, which seems to contradict their earlier commitments at this conference to close down global domestic ivory markets.