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African countries divided on the sale of ivory as CITES conference looms

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The eighteenth Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is focused on protecting vast species of animals.

Proposals to improve protection for elephants, giraffes, sharks and other species will be on the agenda at the convention, set to begin on Saturday, 17 August 2019, in Geneva. Pro-trade proposals have been put forward by both Zambia, to down list Zambia’s elephant population to allow ivory stockpile sales and exports of hunting trophies, hides and leathers; and by Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, to amend the existing listing for elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to allow stockpile sales at any future date.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Togo, backed by many more African countries, are calling for total protection for elephants from any commercial international trade in ivory, by listing all African elephants on Appendix I of CITES, which would afford the highest protection.

The future survival of many animals traded for their parts or as live specimens will be affected by decisions taken at the meeting by attending government representatives of most of the 183 member parties.

They will be negotiating proposals on the longest agenda in CITES history, with the meeting scheduled to run until Wednesday, 28 August 2019.

This CoP18 has 107 agenda items and 57 species proposals. By contrast, Johannesburg, CoP17 had 90 agenda items and Bangkok CoP16 had 79 agenda items.

“Around 20 000 elephants per year are currently slaughtered for the illegal ivory trade. It is vital as the next CoP takes place that countries come together to do all they can to protect some of our most vulnerable species,” said Matt Collis, IFAW Director, International Policy, and head of IFAW’s delegation at CITES.

As at previous CoPs, elephants and ivory trade will be prominent on the agenda, with three separate proposals presenting contrasting visions for the conservation of African elephants.

“Elephants need the highest protection from trade, to prevent legal sales providing a smokescreen for further poaching and illegal trade. However, it is also important that at CITES parties work to deal with problems in individual domestic markets, rather than only addressing potential up-listings and down-listings,” added Collins.

For the first time, CITES delegates will also consider protection of giraffes. Known as the ‘silent extinction’ giraffe numbers have plummeted by up to 40 percent over the last 30 years due to threats including international trade in their parts, as well as habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting.



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