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NAMIBIAN WILD ELEPHANTS SENT INTO CAPTIVITY IN THE UAE: THE CITES TREATY – A PAPER TIGER AND AN ACTIVE ENABLER OF CRUELTY

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PUBLIC STATEMENT

SATURDAY 5TH MARCH 2022

The EMS Foundation has been informed that rare wild caught Namibian desert adapted elephants, as part of a clearly commercial transaction, were transported from the containment area on the GoHuntNamibia Safari property located in Gobabis in Namibia and loaded onto a Fly Pro Moldovan Cargo charter plane last night (4th March 2022), at Hosea Kutako International Airport for two captive destinations in the UAE – likely the Al Ain Zoo−a member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)−and Sharjah Safari. The flight landed at Sharjah at five am local time. 

It goes without question that there are serious welfare and ethical concerns related to the capture, restraint, trade and captivity of elephants. Elephant ethologists, behaviourists and scientists are clear – elephants do not belong in captivity. 

Even the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSN AfESG) does not support the removal of wild African elephants for captive use. In an official statement they clarified, “Believing there to be no direct benefit for in situ conservation of African elephants, the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use.”

Legal Opinion obtained by the EMS Foundation, found that it would not be lawful for the Namibia CITES Management Authority to issue an export permit under either Appendix I or Appendix II of CITES, nor for a country outside of the range states for Loxodonta Africana to issue an import permit, particularly because Appendix II does not apply to the export and the available evidence indicates that exporting the Namibian wild caught elephants to an ex situ programme cannot meet the requirements of Article III for trade in Appendix I species, particularly the non-detriment criterion.

In a statement, the Namibian authorities confirmed that they had captured wild elephants which were sold on auction in 2021. They confirmed that some of these elephants will be exported to a foreign country. “We are signatories to CITES and we are aware of the international statues, the international law that governs CITES member states.  Our law does not allow an animal to be exported to a country where we know the environment is not conducive for this animal.” 

A number of urgent complaints and letters of concern have been sent by the NGO sector to CITES, and the Namibian and UAE authorities about the cruel capture, confinement and trade of wild elephants for captivity purposes. For example:

  • In December 2020 PREN members highlighted their concerns relating to the proposals to offer live elephants for commercial sale captured from regions of Namibia. 
  • On World Elephant Day on the 12th August 2021, PREN members questioned whether the live wild elephants mentioned in official statements would be sold internationally or whether they were captured for purposes of in situ conservation purposes and whether any of the captured elephants would be held in captivity. 
  • On the 21st September 2021, PREN members urgently directed communications to the CITES Secretary General, to the CITES Legal Affairs and Compliance officer, the Chief of the CITES Science Unit of the Secretariat, the Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and the Chair of the CITES Animals Committee.
  • On the 27th of October 2021, PREN members urgently requested that the CITES Secretariat approach the Namibian government urging the government to comply with CITES regulations and provisions. 
  • On the 18th of February 202218th of February 2022 PREN members urgently requested that the Acting Director Biodiversity Department CITES UAE, Namibian CITES Authority, CITES Secretary General, CITES Legal and Compliance Officer, Chair of the CITES Standing Committee and the Chair of the CITES Animals Committee halt the export of the wild caught Namibian elephants and ensure that they are returned to the wild as soon as possible.  

Shamefully, and indicative of the lack of accountability and transparency, there has been no official response to any of these letters from the CITES Secretariat, the UAE or Namibia. 

WILL CITES PARTIES EVER ADDRESS NON-COMPLIANCE AND WELFARE ISSUES?

The EMS Foundation takes note of the inclusion of the wild caught Namibian elephant subject matter on agenda item number 50 at the CITES Standing Committee 74th meeting in Lyon which will be held from the 7th to the 11th of March 2022.  At the very least we demand that the CITES Standing Committee take a clear position on the capture of wild elephants in Namibia. 

Amongst many other matters that require careful consideration, the CITES Standing Committee will the discuss the issue which is listed as agenda item 50, the legal opinion on CITES rules on exports of live African elephants from Namibia submitted by Burkina Faso. The published findings of this legal opinion are as follows: 

  1. Namibia’s elephant population is listed in CITES Appendix II, subject to annotation 2. The annotation clearly states that it allows trade in live elephants from Namibia exclusively for in situ conservation programmes, but by inference not to other locations or for any other purpose. 
  2. Any previous or future export of live wild-caught elephants from Namibia to a destination outside the natural range of the species therefore does not comply with the provisions of CITES. 
  3. The last paragraph of annotation 2 does not apply to live wild-caught specimens and any interpretation implying that live elephants may be exported from Namibia to ex situ locations is contrary to the Convention and the fundamental principles of interpretation of treaties. Given that Namibia’s elephant population is listed in CITES Appendix II, which is subject to a legally binding restriction on live trade, in force since 2003, limiting such trade to in situ conservation programmes only, exports of live wild-caught elephants from Namibia should only be permissible to destinations within the natural range of the species”

As a member of the Species Survival Network (SSN)the EMS Foundation also supports the SSN input on Issue 50 – the definition of the term ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’ (Report of AC SC74 Doc.). 

CONCLUSION

The CITES Parties and the CITES Secretariat, despite flagrant non-compliance and numerous communications from the NGO sector as well as legal opinions provided to them from recognised legal firms in Switzerland and South Africa have failed to act or address the capture and sale of wild elephants into captivity. The consequence of this is that a number of elephants have suffered immensely and the CITES parties involved in these commercial transactions are allowed to continue with impunity.  

Furthermore, CITES ignored the African Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission who does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use. 

The Species Survival Network has published a rejection of Namibia’s use of Article III of the Convention re: its exports of live African elephants to non-range States.

The export of live wild-caught elephants should only be permissible to destinations within the natural range state of the species, i.e. for bona Vida in situ conservation reasons.

The UAE was suspended once before from CITES and should be suspended again. The glaring question is: will CITES Parties do the right thing and enforce their own Treaty. 

Images: Previous export of African elephants from Africa to the UAECredit: Facebook 

©The EMS Foundation 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Original article: https://emsfoundation.org.za/namibian-wild-elephants-sent-into-captivity-in-the-uae-the-cites-treaty-a-paper-tiger-and-an-active-enabler-of-cruelty/

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