"The decision taken by the CITES Standing Committee followed a strict process ensuring that there were no deviations from the comprehensive pre-conditions that the international community has set," said Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of UNEP, which administers the CITES secretariat.
"Like others, I'm concerned that this sensitive issue is handled properly and in an open and transparent manner," continued Toepfer. "If it is, then we have taken an important step forward in preventing the re-emergence of the illegal trade in elephant ivory. Once again, the pivotal role of the CITES Convention has clearly been demonstrated. I commend the responsible approach taken by the Standing Committee which has made this judgement on the basis of thorough investigation and available information," he said.
The CITES Standing Committee, meeting in Geneva from 8 to 12 February, agreed that the conditions set for an experimental and limited trade in ivory had been met in the case of two of the three intended exporters and in the case of the recipient Japan, and therefore the sale could proceed. As a result, Namibia and Zimbabwe may ship 13.8 tonnes and 20 tonnes, respectively, of their ivory stocks to Japan on or after 18 March 1999. Botswana, the other African country that also wants to sell its ivory, was found not to have satisfied one important condition and will be subject to a further inspection mission by the CITES Secretariat's verification team before any final decision is made.
The Geneva meeting agreed on the procedures for halting the ivory trade if there is evidence of increased poaching or of non-compliance with the conditions.
The Standing Committee's actions are a follow-up to the June 1997 decision at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, to permit some highly controlled exports of elephant ivory for the first time since 1989. By a large majority, governments agreed to transfer the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe from Appendix I (which completely bans commercial trade) to Appendix II (which allows international trade that is strictly managed).
At the same time, governments were concerned that this decision should not have an adverse impact on the elephant's conservation status. The Standing Committee, therefore, endorsed a monitoring system related to elephant populations and illegal killing in Africa and Asia and agreed mechanisms to ensure its implementation. In addition, they agreed that a comprehensive and rigorous set of verification and control procedures be put into place before any trade could resume.
These conditions include: improving enforcement and control measures at the national level; establishing mechanisms to re-invest the trade revenue into elephant conservation; putting a range of safeguards in place; agreeing to an international system for reporting and monitoring legal and illegal trade and the illegal killing of elephants; and adopting a mechanism for halting trade and retransferring one or more of the elephant populations to Appendex I if necessary. The Standing Committee of CITES is charged with ensuring that these conditions are met.
Earlier this month, Toepfer appointed Mr. Willem Wouter Wijnstekers of The Netherlands as the new Secretary-General of CITES.
For further information please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman in Nairobi on
tel. (+254-2) 623292, fax: 623692,
UNEP Press Officer on
tel. (254-2) 623084,
the CITES Secretariat,
15, Chemin des Anemones,
tel. (+41-22) 9799139/40, fax: 797 3417,
Note to Editors
When a species becomes endangered through habitat destruction, pollution, trade and other forces, this failure of human stewardship of the earth's natural resources must be corrected. CITES is one important mechanism for doing this. It allows governments to either strictly regulate international trade in threatened species of plants and animals via an Appendix II listing or to ban all international commercial trade in species threatened with extinction via inclusion in Appendix I.
As the impact of trade and other forces on populations of a wildlife species increases or decreases, it can be added to the CITES appendices, removed from them, or shifted from one appendix to another. These decisions are based on the best biological information available and an analysis of how different types of protection can affect specific populations.
A species from I to II does not mean that protection for this species has been "downgraded". Rather, it is a sign of success because that species's numbers have grown to the point where trade may be possible. In addition, by allowing a species to be commercially traded at sustainable levels, Appendix II status can actually improve protection by giving local people a greater stake in the species's survival. It can also attract greater international financial and practical support from the international community for improving national enforcement and conservation measures.
UNEP News Release 1999/16