As Extinction Looms, Elephants DC Calls for Tighter International Controls To Protect Elephants

(photo by Diana Robinson)

(photo by Diana Robinson)

WASHINGTON DC — Elephants DC advocated for tighter legal controls to protect elephants on Saturday, Nov. 14 in America’s capitol city.

At a two-day conference on international law and wildlife well-being at George Washington University School of Law, Elephants DC representatives participated in a panel discussion about the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty focused on protecting wildlife from becoming extinct due to international trade.

The Elephants DC team was joined on the panel by Nickolaus Sackett, legal counsel for Social Compassion in Legislation; Bryan Christy, National Geographic investigative journalist; and Bill Clark of INTERPOL. The panel was moderated by Rachelle Adam, who serves as faculty in the law department of Hebrew University.

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Elephants DC volunteer attorneys Holly Sheridan and Jose de Arteaga outlined the history of CITES, explaining how the treaty regulates the trade in ivory, and highlighting the agreement’s major weakness: it fails to protect all species of elephants around the world.

Specifically, since the treaty came into effect in 1975, CITES has classified Asian elephants as Appendix I species, or species that are in the greatest danger of extinction. Any trade in Appendix I species requires both export and import permits. Furthermore, the trade of Appendix I species cannot be detrimental to the survival of the species or be primarily for commercial purposes.

African elephants, however, have not received the same level of protection as Asian elephants. Since 1997, African elephants in certain countries have been classified under Appendix II, which lists species that are not necessarily at high risk of endangerment and do not require an import permit for trade.

“We need to make CITES a better tool for protecting all elephants. We need to get all elephants listed on Appendix I,” Holly said.

Jen Samuel, president and founder of Elephants DC, explained that a formal resolution must be introduced at CITES’ next convention in 2016 to restore all African elephants to Appendix I. “Elephants DC is petitioning select governments around the world for their support to restore all African elephants to Appendix I standing in 2016,” Jen said.

Jose added that upgrading all elephants to Appendix I, closing loopholes in domestic legal instruments, and enforcing higher penalties for poachers are only part of the solution for ending the international commercial trade of elephant ivory. “We need a comprehensive ban on the trade in ivory,” he said.

“Concurrently, we must look at real-time solutions to counter habitat loss and human-elephant conflict,” Jen said. “We need action and solutions, not rhetoric, to save these majestic animals from impending extinction.”

The time to make a difference is now.

Elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of 1 every 14 minutes in order to supply the global demand for ivory products. “It is widely estimated that 35,000 African elephants are illegally slaughtered annually,” Jen said.

Last month alone, poachers poisoned and killed more than 70 wild elephants in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park — an unspeakable crime.

In July 2015, the government of Zimbabwe exported two dozen baby elephants kidnapped from their families in the wild to China, where they are reported to be wounded and suffering in captivity. As Nickolaus Sackett of Social Compassion in Legislation pointed out in his presentation, this trade was technically permitted under Appendix II of CITES, lending further urgency to the need to restore all elephants to Appendix I standing.

ABOUT ELEPHANTS DC
Elephants DC is dedicated to ending the ivory trade while advancing elephant well-being around the world. As an all-volunteer nonprofit, we support elephant conservation through advocacy, education, and field organization support to protect critical species from extinction. In 2016 Elephants DC is heading to Gabon to support the earth’s largest remaining population of forest elephants. For more information, visit www.elephantsdc.org and follow Elephants DC on Facebook.

Elephants DC extends special thanks to writer Stephanie Bento for her work on this article.

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