'If poaching is allowed to continue, in 30 years there will be no elephants left in Africa' - La Treizième Étoile: A blog on EU politics
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'If poaching is allowed to continue, in 30 years there will be no elephants left in Africa'

Monday, 25 January 2010
In an emotional appearance in Brussels this afternoon, Dr Noah Wekesa, the Kenyan Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, fought back the tears as he issued a heartfelt call to the European Union for its Member States to speak out with one voice in opposition to the plans of two fellow African states to try and open a new breach in the total worldwide ivory trade ban.

Beautiful creatures under threat: the African Elephant (Photo: Guardian)Tanzania and Zambia want to sell their stocks of legally acquired ivory (from culling, or from elephants which have died naturally) which allegedly amounts to some 90 tonnes and 22 tonnes respectively, worth a total of $16 million.

In addition, they want their elephant populations to be downgraded from the Appendix 1 (which prohibits all trade in the species) to Appendix 2 (which allows trade if it is monitored) in the ban governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Both of these actions are heavily criticised by conservationists and are of great concern to the African Elephant Coalition, formed of 23 African countries, who have this week sent a delegation to Brussels ahead of the next CITES meeting which scheduled for 13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

Right to Left: Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP, Noah Wekesa, the Kenyan Minister of Forestry and Wildlife and Patrick Omondi, the senior Assistant Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (Photo: Andrew Burgess)Speaking in a press conference this afternoon, Mr Wekesa, called on the EU to "take an unequivocal position in defence of the total moratorium on ivory trade for all countries" and said that "sitting on the fence [as the EU did last time] would be tantamount to handing the EU's 27 votes to the pro-trade lobby."

He explained how all the past evidence shows that these so-called legal sales result in a resurgence of the illegal trade, and the Coalition fear that an ambivalent position by the European Commission towards proposals to tighten and extend a ban on legal ivory trading will lead to increased poaching and the future extinction of the species on the continent.

"If poaching is allowed to continue as it is, in 30 years there will be no elephants left in Africa," was Mr Wekesa's sobering prognostic.

Sharing this concern, Patrick Omondi, the senior Assistant Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service which was set up to protect Kenya's elephant population, said "that's why we are taking the unprecedented step of convening a special meeting of the African Elephant Coalition in Brussels to impress on the EU Commission, Member States and Parliament that they must not support the few who want to sell ivory again and thereby spur the poaching that decimates elephant populations in large parts of Africa."

Speaking about his own countries' elephant population, Mr Wekesa told those present how in 1963, when Kenya gained independence from the British, its elephant population numbered some 167,000, and that by 1989 this figure had been slashed to 16,000 as a result of mass illegal poaching - a cull of nearly 90%.

Later that year, member states of CITES agreed at their meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to place the African elephant on CITES' Appendix One, which meant that all trade in elephant products, ivory, became banned all around the world. When this ruling came into force in 1990, it resulted in a large decrease of poaching levels all across Africa.

However, in 2007, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana sought and achieved permission from CITES to a "one-off" sale, of 100 tonnes, capitalising on a lack of single EU voice of veto on the matter. Britain, amongst others, had decided to allow the sale despite warnings that it will increase poaching, and China was allowed to become an official ivory buyer, harbouring the largest amount of illegal ivory.

Illegally sourced Elephant IvoryAs part of this compromise deal, it was agreed by all parties that for a period of nine years (up to 2016) no further applications for the sale of ivory would be lodged. Since the agreement, money pledged by the Kenyan government on conservation projects has seen its population double to now 35,000; an encouraging sign.

Now the AEC worry another sale would result in the elephant's extinction from the continent. "We simply cannot afford to lose any more elephants," Mr Wekesa said. "Elephants know no boundaries and with their exceptional memories they will walk 100 miles or more for water crossing into other states. They do not belong to Tanzania or Zambia; they belong to everyone."

MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL), who will be part of the EU's delegation to Doha next month, supported this call and said the EU "abstaining would be the same as giving it the sale the green light."

"A main underlying problem is that it is very hard to distinguish what is legal and illegal ivory, but to be honest this item should not even be on the agenda in Doha" because of the agreed nine-year no-sale period.

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