Compiled by Emmanuel Koro, African environmental journalist who has extensively written on environment and development issues in Africa
IN THIS ISSUE: Derek Lewitton finds that CITES’s own statistics demonstrate a high tolerance for illegal trade.
CITES a disaster for sustainable use.
Global Hypocrisy with Respect to Ivory.
DEREK LEWITTON WRITES: Notwithstanding the ‘trade ban’ imposed by CITES’ listing of elephants, a robust trade in their ivory has continued, with a surprising range of nations involved.
• The data gathered between 2012 and 2018 indicate that some 131 nations imported a total of 222,118 specimens of commercial elephant products. They include raw ivory, ivory carvings, leather products, elephant hair, and the like. Among those 131 nations, the United States proved to be the biggest importer of ivory items. Over the 8 years analysed, the U.S. imported 41,039 specimens—some a fraction more than 5,000 pieces per year.
• Switzerland was the second, with 31,292 specimens and about half of those specimens came from the wild. When one analyses the volume of trades by uses and sources, it is apparent that the major explanation of the trade was for commercial purposes, followed by elephant products found in shipments of personal goods.
• The most surprising point is that 395 of the specimens acquired in the wild were traded for commercial purposes, which would appear to be a clear violation of the CITES regulations.
COMMENT FROM THE SOURCE: It is ironic that the Chair of the plenary sessions of the 18th meeting of the parties signatory to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species also heads the Swiss delegation to CITES.
• LEWITTON CONTINUES HIS ANALYSIS: If all elephant products are analysed, rather than just the most obviously commercial ones, and filters for those products from elephants taken in the wild and imported for commercial purposes, the research shows 74 trades, covering 699 separate specimens. The nations most heavily engaging in this unexpected behaviour are not necessarily those one would suspect. The three biggest exporters account for 81% of all of the elephant product exports that appear to violate the most basic rules of CITES. These are Sri Lanka (59%), South Africa (13%), and Uruguay (8%). The three biggest importers account for 84% of all imported elephant products whose coding shows them to be in violation of the prohibition on trade. These are Thailand (59%), Brazil (18%), and Great Britain (7%).
• The United States engaged in three trades of wild-caught product for commercial importation, covering 20 ivory carvings. Those trades were with Italy, Tanzania, and Austria. Austria imported 28 carving specimens from Uruguay in 10 trades, and another carving from Ghana, all with the prohibited combination of commercial purposes and wild origin. Norway imported 52 ivory piano keys from Poland, and four leather products from Italy, and Qatar permitted eight imports of 36 ivory carvings from Sweden, Swaziland, and Belgium.
THE SOURCE COMMENT: Lewitton’s data deserves even more mining in the months ahead to show the cheating that CITES seems to tolerate (or ignore) when it proves convenient to the organisation’s overtaxed Secretariat staff.
CITES a disaster for sustainable use.
By John Rance, South African safari operator.
• CITES [has] been a disaster for sustainable use and managed wildlife populations, just like all the others.
• Some really stupid decisions at CITES, like giraffe listing, in the face of sound and logical arguments to do otherwise, may have poked flames into the fire. Maybe this has caused a mood change in SADC country governments which again, may just cause them to defy or break free from CITES constraints if the Eastern economic block will support trade with them.
• But it seems clear for this to happen, pro-sustainable use proponents need to wake up the voting African public to become as vociferous in this campaign as the animal rightists have succeeded with the public perception in Eurocentric countries. It’s ironic that a handful [of] the countries who support sustainable use of managed wildlife populations (with about 7 of them having [an estimated] 80% of the populations [of] such wildlife) are constrained from doing so by the other 80% who either have no populations of such species, or who have contrived to lose most of them.