Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) decided to implement a near-total ban on taking baby African elephants from the wild and selling them to zoos after days of debate.
The European Union ultimately decided to support the ban late on Tuesday, despite concerns, and the motion passed by 87 votes to 29.
But the main exporter of elephants, Zimbabwe, and the United States voted against such tightening of rules. Zimbabwe and Botswana, both nations with healthier elephant populations than other African nations, were allowed to export elephants to “appropriate and acceptable” destinations. But Humane Society International reports that the country captured and exported more than 100 baby elephants to Chinese zoos since 2012.
Last week’s verdict pointedly strengthens the restrictions on the elephant trade. Under it, elephants can be taken from the wild and placed in “captive facilities” somewhere else in the world only under exceptional circumstances after approval by a committee of Cites members.
The ban was originally approved by the committee last week, fierce campaigning against the move by Zimbabwe and initial opposition by the EU due to concerns over genetic variation in zoos around the world delayed the verdict. After some amendments to allow trade in exceptional circumstances and provisions to transfer elephants already in zoos, the EU changed its vote.
Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation said, “It doesn’t mean that no elephant will ever be taken from the wild and put into a captive facility overseas. But it’s going to tighten it up so much that mass shipments of elephants to zoos in the Far East, for example, simply won’t happen.”
Humane Society International considers this as “celebrating a momentous win”.
Audrey Delsink, the group’s Africa wildlife director, “Despite compromise language being introduced by the EU, we are relieved by its passing. The highly sociable animals found separations incredibly traumatizing. Speaking personally as an elephant field biologist, I am jubilant that we have secured this victory for all the elephants who will now be spared the ordeal of being ripped away from their families.”
During the convention, some African nations even lobbied for a re-opening of the ivory trade, contending that existing stocks that were originally confiscated from poachers or leftover from already-dead animals, were precious and could be used for conservation purposes.