The regulator of global wildlife trade has decided to impose a near-total ban on sending African elephants captured from the wild to zoos.
After a heated debate at a meeting of parties to the convention on international trade in endangered species (Cites) in Geneva on Tuesday, the member countries approved a proposed text after a revision by the European Union included some exceptions to the ban.
The decision met with strong opposition from Zimbabwe in particular, which along with Botswana is the main provider of wild African elephants to zoos outside the continent and tried in vain to block the vote.
“This is a momentous Cites decision for Africa’s elephants,” said Audrey Delsink, the wildlife director of Humane Society International’s (HSI) Africa division.
The vote in plenary altered slightly a decision taken at the start of the 12-day conference prohibiting the transfer of all African elephants caught in the wild to so-called captive facilities.
The decision only affects African elephants. Asian elephants already enjoy more protection against international trade.
The initial Cites vote was to limit trade in live wild African elephants to conservation in their natural habitats, basically ending the practice of capturing elephants and sending them to zoos and entertainment venues around the world.
The EU, which for technical reasons had been unable to cast its 28 votes during the first committee vote on 18 August, had hinted it might join the US and others in flatly opposing the text.
This prompted outcry, with a number of public figures including Jane Goodall, Pamela Anderson and Brigitte Bardot sending a letter to the EU commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, asking that the EU back the ban.
In the end, the EU drafted an amended text, adding a loophole saying the elephants should remain in their “natural and historical range in Africa, except in exceptional circumstances where … it is considered that a transfer to ex-situ locations will provide demonstrable in-situ conservation benefits for African elephants”.
In such cases decisions should only be made in consultation with the Cites animals committee, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature elephant specialist group.
The EU amendment also made clear that African elephants caught in the wild and already in zoos could be transferred to other facilities outside Africa.
While elephants in western, central and eastern Africa have long been listed among the species in need of most protection under Cites, and thus banned from all trade, some trade has been permitted in southern Africa, where elephant populations are healthier.
Zimbabwe, for instance, has captured and exported more than 100 baby elephants to Chinese zoos since 2012, according to the HSI.
Article Source: The Guardian