The National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process is an important framework. It was developed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in response to the continuing elephant poaching crisis in Africa, the worst the continent has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s. If implemented effectively, the NIAP process can contribute significantly to a reduction in elephant poaching and
the illegal trade in ivory.
The NIAP process identifies the key CITES Parties with high levels of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. It calls for these countries to develop and implement robust time-bound action plans to address country-specific concerns, with the ultimate goal of achieving positive impact on the ground. For example, impact can be measured
through progress made in reducing elephant poaching (resulting in stabilised or increased elephant populations) or improving legislation and enforcement actions (resulting in increased ivory seizures and successful prosecutions).
The NIAP process has prompted notable progress in some participating countries. For example, Kenya has strengthened national legislation and improved conviction rates. In 2015, Thailand took steps to regulate its domestic ivory market which, although falling well short of a ban, have measurably reduced illegal trade. In 2017,
China closed its domestic ivory market almost entirely. Meanwhile, Uganda has reported that participating in the NIAP process has been positive by encouraging key Government officials to recognise the importance of tackling illegal ivory trafficking as well as by giving the issue more public prominence across the country.
There have already been some welcome developments in the process, such as the production of templates for NIAPs and progress reports. The NIAP Guidelines adopted at the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties in 2016 (CoP17), 1 recognise the need for performance indicators and targets to demonstrate progress. They include data on elephant poaching levels, number of ivory seizures, successful prosecutions and any relevant indicators from the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). The CITES Standing Committee (SC) has the ultimate decision making authority over who participates in, stays in or exits the NIAP process. Since the SC meets every year, this offers an opportunity for tracking progress, supporting implementation and securing strong country-specific decisions on a timely basis, rather than waiting for three years to secure action at a CITES CoP.
However, the NIAP process is in its infancy. As such, weaknesses are still being identified and there are opportunities for learning and making improvements. The NIAP Guidelines are an important step forward but they have not been fully implemented to date. One of the most significant concerns is that even though the NIAP Guidelines specifically encourage assessment of progress by independent experts, the process continues to rely on self-assessment progress reports submitted by Parties, without independent review. These progress reports may not fully reflect the key challenges being faced by the NIAP Party in question. There is a clear and pressing need for the mandatory use of independent experts in the assessment of progress against NIAP objectives.
Similarly, serious concerns have also been raised about the adequacy of certain NIAPs to address the problems they need to solve. Therefore, as well as being involved in the assessment of progress, it is important that independent experts participate in the development of the NIAP. Finally, independent experts should be involved in the ultimate assessment as to whether a country should exit the NIAP process. While the existing NIAP Guidelines do call for consultation with independent experts, necessary amendments to the NIAP Guidelines should be made at CoP18 to ensure that involvement of expert analysis becomes a standard part of the NIAP process and not an optional extra.
The underlying issues within a country may change during the period covered by a NIAP. If that happens, the SC should be able to work with the Party to revise its NIAP to address those changed circumstances, rather than wait for the end of the NIAP period to request the development of a new NIAP.
A significant concern about the NIAP process is that the focus is on tracking actions of NIAP Parties rather than on impact. Parties tend to focus on achieving a certain percentage of the NIAP objectives rather than assessing their actual impact in addressing the problems (for example, by demonstrating an increase in elephant populations or disruption of organised criminal networks involved in ivory trafficking). Once a certain percentage of the NIAP objectives has been achieved, the Party may argue that it should exit the process. That would be premature. Before the SC decides that any Party should exit the NIAP process, there should be an assessment period involving detailed input from independent experts to establish whether the actions taken have actually made any difference to the underlying problems. If not, the NIAP should be revised. For example, if a country has made legislative changes, it would be premature for that country to exit the NIAP process, without demonstrating the impact of the changes such as increased prosecutions and disruption of the organised criminal networks implicated in ivory trafficking.
Objective and methodology
This report is intended to support CITES decision-making in relation to the NIAP process in advance of the 70th meeting of the SC (SC70). The report recognises that progress is being made by highlighting examples of best practice. It also identifies challenges and sets out recommendations for the NIAP process and for individual NIAP Parties. The report uses publicly available information to assess progress by 19 key NIAP Parties. Some of the indicators used for the assessment overlap with the Indicator Framework for Wildlife and Forest Crime
developed by ICCWC. Our assessment does not include all of the ICCWC indicators because the information for
many of these is held and maintained solely by governments. We urge all Parties, whether in the NIAP process or
not, to employ the ICCWC indicators to evaluate the impact of their responses to wildlife crime.
While significant progress has been made by some NIAP Parties, there remain key gaps that continue to pose a challenge for effectively reducing elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. Common challenges for the majority of the 19 NIAP Parties assessed in this report include:
• lack of the full range of legislation for tackling ivory trafficking as an organised crime
• lack of a strong and coordinated criminal justice response to organised poaching and ivory trafficking (resulting in low levels of arrests, prosecutions and convictions, as well as inadequate sentences)
• poor ivory stockpile management (at least 10 of the NIAP Parties assessed had stockpiled ivory leaking into the
• lack of reporting to facilitate CITES decision-making (e.g. reports to ETIS)
• failure to address corruption which enables wildlife trafficking
• inadequate international cooperation, including among NIAP Parties themselves
• lack of capacity
• lack of use of financial investigation techniques
• lack of use of forensic evidence to secure convictions
• lack of centralised wildlife crime database.
Other than the NIAPs of Congo, Uganda and Gabon, the NIAPs of the Parties assessed in this report do not make
commitments to tackle corruption. While several NIAPs refer to key indicators to demonstrate progress, very few NIAP progress reports are actually using these indicators – for example, they do not include information on arrests and prosecutions to demonstrate progress in tackling ivory trafficking.
The NIAP process offers a critical opportunity for world governments to take stock of the problems that have led to the ongoing elephant poaching crisis and to tackle these concerns in an effective way. To achieve that objective, this report demonstrates that there are a number of concrete actions that should be implemented urgently.