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CITES History
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Once the elephant ranged many parts of the world. It has been estimated that five to ten million elephants roamed across Africa's deserts, mountains, savannahs, and tropical rain forests. Now, the picture for elephants has become dark. Although it seems progress has been made in the past few years for the better of elephants in parts, this could quickly be undone. The Asian elephant is quickly slipping into extinction with the majority of males killed off for their ivory; without the aid of caring individuals there may only be one species of Proboscideans left roaming the earth in a few short years.

Next to killing them for their body parts and flesh, the biggest threat to the survival of elephants is the loss of their habitat. Hence, if the elephants are not killed off for their ivory first, the encroachment of the human population into the elephants land is most likely going to be the number one threat for their survival in the 21st century.

Habitat protection (which is allowed to run a natural course) is probably the most important factor that people can focus on to keep elephants alive. Remember, by keeping elephants alive and free it does not just end with elephants! Due to their status as a super keystone species it means keeping elephants means keeping the whole environment working; this includes spreading of seeds,  support for a wide variety of wildlife, and much more.

However, with that said it would not take much to start the slide to extinction for elephants as CITES plays with fire but slowly opening the trade in elephant parts again. It is an ominous start for the new millennium with the fate of the elephant as uncertain as ever. However, with global concern and compassion, a difference can be made.

"During the fourteen years they were on 'Appendix Two' well over half the elephants of Africa disappeared." Battle For The Elephants P.305

The following information on the history of the CITES´s `interaction´ with the elephant can be found in several amazing books. First, a great resource is the book Elephants: The Deciding Decade which was edited and put together by Ronald Orenstein. I highly suggest buying this book as most of the information abstracted below was taken from this book. Also, Joyce Poole´s Coming of Age With Elephants and Ian & Oria Douglas-Hamilton's Battle For The Elephants has some very interesting and shocking behind the scenes information. 

Although extremely unsuccessful in attempting to stop the black rhino from slipping into the history books, CITES or The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora  is the organisation that attempts to stop the eradication of species by trying to prevent the sale of their body parts.

A brief description of its rules and different levels of "endangerment is useful to understand in order to grasp the abysmal historical failure of CITES´s effect in saving the elephant until it was placed on Appendix I (with a huge fight). CITES works on a system of permits. There are three appendices in which plants and animals are listed within.

Appendix I

A species on this list can only legally be traded internationally if permits are issued by both the importing and exporting country. Also, species on this list can not be traded for commercial reasons.

Appendix II

These species are not necessarily "endangered" and may be traded for commercial purposes. All that is required is a export permit in this case. Species on this list are "watched" in case trade does appear to be impacting its survival

Appendix III

These species are not necessarily "endangered" and may be traded for commercial purposes. All that is required is a export permit in this case. Species on this list are "watched" in case trade does appear to be impacting its survival

CITES LogoIn 1976, the African elephant was placed on Appendix III, and not long after that was moved up to Appendix II. One major problem was for the scientific community to realise that the chief cause to the elephant's decline was poaching and not habitat loss or disease. Once it was "discovered" and substantiated it took a great deal of the 80´s amidst politics, corruption and money to curb the swift declining elephant population. Sadly, in the middle of it all CITES seemingly failing once again. One of the main deterrents to change was the was the fact that a few countries in-part were `legally´ trading ivory. This was estimated to amount to around 10% of the total ivory trade. Due to the big money involved, it was very difficult to change people's minds that something must be done. Despite efforts to curb illegal trading, permits were easily forged, stolen and reused and corruption was rampant. Over this time the price of ivory continued to rise dramatically. No matter what measure was attempted, there were loop holes or  ways to get around the restrictions and elephants continued to be slaughtered in the thousands.

In May of 1989, due to pressure from conservationists, animal protectionists, and a few dedicated an caring individuals, the United States, Canada, Australia, the European community and a few other importing countries banned the commercial import of ivory.

In October 1989, CITES members met in Switzerland. After a very heated two week battle, the end result was the transfer of the African elephant from Appendix II to Appendix I. The date this went into effect was January 18,1990. Amazingly, only eight years ago!

In is important to note that the ban was only achieved with some very broad compromises. The original proposal has been rejected by a number of African countries, and every meeting since the implementation many of them have fought very hard to ease the restrictions in order to make more money from elephant parts.

The Southern African countries were led by Zimbabwe and tried to claim that the African elephant was not endangered. They wanted a special exemption for themselves to be able to continue trading. There were many other countries questioning the special treatment clauses, and the decisions as to the permanence of the placement of the elephant on Appendix I. Despite these quibbles, the ban was eventually accepted with a specific amendment introduced by Somalia.

This special amendment specified rules in which an African country might be able apply to have the ban lifted within its territories. To put is simply, a country can request that a panel of experts visit its territory check three major factors:

  1. Survey the population of elephants
  2. Investigate into their anti-poaching control system
  3. Investigate  their control over illegal smuggling through their territories.

If a country receives a satisfactory assessment, the CITIES members may allow it to resume its trading in ivory. With this system in place the vote to move the Elephant to the Appendix I level was passed.

Hence after January 18,1990, and elephant's ivory, its body parts, and live elephants can not be imported or exported from one cites party to another for commercial purposes. However, personal effects, hunting trophies, scientific specimens, and zoo animals could be carried across boarders with the proper paperwork.

Also, if ivory had been imported into the country before the ban it could be sold there.  And even more specific, was the allowance to trade in "pre-convention" ivory if it was imported before 1976 or if it was imported before a country joined CITES.

Even beyond these rules many huge loopholes existed. Over 100 nations around the world belong to CITES. However, a few key trading nations including Taiwan and South Korea do not. Five African countries (Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe,  and Zambia) and two importing countries (China and Great Britain) entered reservations for the listing Appendix I listing. Although completely legal, it sadly allows any state within 90 days of a vote to announce that it has no intention of being bound by the decision. Hence, the result of this was that for all intensive purposes for these seven countries the African elephant remained on Appendix II.

Amazingly, it was Great Britain who became a big outspoken proponent  in supporting the Appendix I proposal once it was introduced. However, this was an attempt to appease powerful business men who had stockpiled poached ivory in Hong Kong and wanted to make money on it. Specifically, for the British, it was a six month reservation.

Despite the accomplishments, Ivory could still be sold legally with narrowed but open paths for smugglers to take to make money. Probably the only factor keeping the elephant alive today was the collapse in world ivory trade.  This was basically because a majority of people buying ivory stopped.  China even gave up its reservation late in 1990 due to the pointless refusal to attempt to save the dwindling elephant numbers.

All it would take to finish the elephants off would be a an increase in the price of ivory. Some people simply do not think or care about the blood and suffering that is caused from the little piece if ivory that get for a possession in the form of a trinket or some other mostly useless object. With the recent opening in the trade of the South African stock piles to Japan and the upcoming CITES meeting, the decline of the elephant in dramatic numbers could be seen again. With reports of increased poaching in certain countries based on a the assumption that the sale will open the markets up and the terrible record the South African counties have really had in controlling illegal smuggling, as well as the increase in the availability of high powered guns, the elephant's future has a dark cloud over it.

Remember, if you travel abroad and you see a nice looking `whitish´ sculpture that you would love to have consider the slaughter and suffering caused to get it there! Please, don't take the chance and refuse to buy it! Have some compassion for the people and elephants who have lost their lives in this sick trade.

Remember, that in most cases it is illegal and cruel so please don't support it!!

People will lie to you saying it is legal and anything else to get you to buy it. People have be murdered along the way in this string of suffering and corruption. Please practice compassion.

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