Fifty-four members from both houses of the US House of Representatives sent a letter today to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, urging the United States to vocally and strongly support the highest level of protections for African elephants at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The letter, initiated by Representative Don Beyer (Democrat for Virginia), specifically calls on the US delegation to support an African-led proposal to list all elephants under Appendix I.
Appendix I provides the highest standard of international protection and would prohibit all commercial ivory trade. Currently, elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are classified under Appendix II, thereby facilitating the sale of ivory around the world.
“The simple truth is that a lawful international market for elephant ivory ultimately encourages widespread poaching and illegal trade,” said Representative Beyer. “History has shown a CITES Appendix I listing of all African elephants to be a particularly effective means of protecting these incredible animals whose numbers have been declining dramatically in recent years.”
The move is in support of 29 African countries, comprising of 70% of African elephant range states known as the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), who are advocating for a permanent ban on international trade in elephant at the conference in Johannesburg.
Meanwhile, Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted proposals to allow an “unqualified” trade in ivory and, along with South Africa, they also propose to adopt, without further discussion, a mechanism to permit commercial exports of ivory from Appendix II range States to any importing “partner” states.
“The three countries are out of step with global trend for a total ban on ivory which does not bode well for the image of conference host country, South Africa,” says Vera Weber President and CEO of Fondation Franz Weber, an organization that has been actively supports the African Elephant Coalition’s Appendix I proposal to CITES.
Earlier this month, the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature took a momentous step by calling on all governments to ban the domestic trade in ivory.
This vote comes on the heels of newly released and comprehensive data from the Great Elephant Census, which revealed a catastrophic decline in elephant numbers across Africa.
Yesterday, the United States delegation registered its official position for the conference on this issue as ‘undecided pending consultation with African elephant range states.’ “This letter,” says Weber, “could sway the US delegation to the support Appendix I.”