European Commission, Member States Going Soft on Resumption of Ivory Trade?

Here is some elephant news just arrived from the Fondation Franz Weber

European Commission, Member States Going Soft on Resumption of Ivory Trade?

European Parliament backs total moratorium but Commission dithers

10 February 2010, Strasbourg, France, MEPs today called unequivocally for no resumption of the elephant trade. But the European Commission is being ambivalent to proposals from Tanzania and Zambia to recategorise their elephant populations to allow them to sell ivory (called “downlisting” in the relevant trade jargon). Such moves stimulate poachers seeking to exploit illicit market opportunities under cover of the legal trade.

A Resolution, adopted today, stakes out the European Parliament’s position on protection of endangered species ahead of the 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP15) to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fauna (CITES). CoP15 takes place from 13-25 March 2010 in Doha. This issue is on the agenda for the new Commission’s first meeting on 17 February.

“In 1963 there were 1.3 million elephants in Africa. Today there are less than 500,000,” says Vera Weber of the Fondation Franz Weber, which runs a national park on behalf of the government of Togo. “If things go on at this rate, in another fifty years there will be no more wild elephants left at all. The EU must come out of the bush and support us now. The Commission needs to lead!”

A majority of African countries fear that the lack of political leadership in the Commission until now means that the EU’s position on the future of the African elephant will depend on the technocratic views of civil servants, not on the political leadership.

“This is the last call for the African elephant,” continues Ms. Weber. “For months on end there has been a huge gap in political leadership in the EU on elephant conservation. We urge newly-appointed environment and trade commissioners Potocnik and De Gucht to cut through the bureaucratic waffle and do the right thing politically – so that future generations of European kids will actually know that wild elephants still live in Africa. The EU was with us on this in 2007, where is it now?”

Any legally authorised sales of ivory (to China and Japan – the only countries in the world who continue to buy ivory) create cover for illegal trading (usually into the same two countries), thereby encouraging poachers to slaughter elephants cruelly all across Africa. In Chad’s Zakouma National Park, the elephant population grew over 20 years with EU aid to 4,800 animals by 2003. Since then poachers have decimated this population. In 2009 there were just 617 elephants left. Last month that number fell to 607 as poachers killed another ten animals for their tusks. Elephants are now extinct in Sierra Leone because of poaching. Yet Commission officials are not publicly backing the total moratorium agreed in CITES in 2007 which the EU played a decisive role in promoting.

At the CITES CoP14 meeting in the Hague in 2007, the then German Presidency of the EU was instrumental in brokering a 9-year total moratorium in elephant trade. Yet, Commission officials appear ambivalent about whether Tanzania and Zambia should be allowed to “downlist” their elephants – an initiative which is the first step towards launching trade. The moratorium started in late 2008, just after legal one-off ivory sales by Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

On the initiative of the Fondation Franz Weber, eighteen delegates from the 23-government African Elephant Coalition took the unprecedented step of visiting Brussels in late-January for a week of talks aiming to persuade the EU institutions not to agree to any downlisting. The visitors found MEPs clear and supportive, the Commission evasive and non-committal.

The European Parliament Resolution explicitly urges the Commission and Member States to reject all proposals that would result in any resumption of the African elephant ivory trade until such time as a proper assessment can be made of the impact on poaching of the November 2008 one-off sales of ivory from a number of southern African countries.

“Elephants need their tusks, the Chinese don’t. If the EU abstains on this issue in Doha, this will effectively give the green light for the resumption of the ivory trade which millions of Europeans do not want to see,” says Ms. Weber. “An historic opportunity now exists to ensure that the ivory trade is not revived – even on a limited basis – thereby helping threatened elephant populations avoid the poachers’ guns and bazookas.”

The EU must act now to protect the African elephant from extinction. The credibility of the EU presidency is at stake in the eyes of at least 23 African countries.

For more information contact Eamonn Bates in Strasbourg on +32-475 45 24 43 or Vera Weber on +41-79 210 54 04

African Elephant Coalition (AEC) members are the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Republic of Congo and the Government of Southern Sudan. Kenya and Mali are the co-Chairs of the AEC.

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