SA vote keeps elephants off CITES critically endangered list

03 October 2016 - 18:11 By Graeme Hosken

South Africa was instrumental today in ensuring that elephants have not been listed as a critically endangered species. In a vote at the 17th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Flora and Fauna in Johannesburg‚ South Africa voted against having elephants listed as a critically endangered species.The Convention required a two-thirds majority to have elephants listed critically endangered.Of the 158 members present at CITES‚ 62 voted for elephants to be listed as critically endangered‚ which would see a ban on trade and hunting of elephants‚ while 44 said no to the proposal. Fourteen countries abstained from the vote.Just moments before the vote‚ Environmental Affairs Department minister Edna Molewa told The Times‚ that South Africa's vote would be based on scientific evidence."People must learn not to vote with their hearts and emotions. All our votes are based on very specific and very scientific evidence."We do not vote with our hearts‚ we vote with the knowledge of science‚" she said.The vote put South Africa in direct confrontation with its neighbour Botswana.In a statement that country's minister of environment‚ wildlife and tourism‚ Tsehekedi Khama‚ said that Botswana was home to the world's largest elephant population - 35% of the African savannah elephant population."Fully aware of the serious poaching crisis facing elephants across much of Africa‚ we unreservedly and voluntarily relinquish its current status and support an up listing of all African elephants to a status [where they are listed as critically endangered]."A Botswana led survey - the Great Elephant Census - shows that in 15 African countries - savanna elephant populations declined by 30%. That's 144 000 elephants in seven years."He said poaching was so intense that in 10 years' time‚ "we could lose 50% of Africa’s remaining elephants" and that countries with small isolated elephant populations‚ the populations would be completely wiped out."Now is the time for action. The current elephant poaching crisis that we as a global community face must be dealt with emphatically."The real measures of success now include stemming the demand for ivory internationally‚ protecting remaining herds from poaching‚ and securing elephant habitats."The struggle for their protection extends beyond Eastern and Central Africa. It is clear that the southern African strongholds are now at great poaching risk‚ and there is concerning evidence that elephant poaching is moving south."Khama said Botswana would not ignore "our responsibility" to other African elephant range states and their elephant populations."Although Botswana has previously supported the limited‚ legal ivory sales from countries that manage their elephant herds sustainably‚ we now recognize that we can no longer support these sales‚ and we cannot deal with this issue in a vacuum."We must unite solidarity with our colleagues worldwide to stop this crisis. A threat to elephants anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere."Khama said if decisive action was not taken now the results would be catastrophic and many more thousands of elephants will have been poached for their ivory.Richard Thomas‚ spokesman of TRAFFIC‚ an international wildlife trafficking combating organisation‚ said: “Where elephants fall on the CITES appendices is inconsequential to their survival. All the paper protection in the world is not going to compensate for poor law enforcement‚ rampant corruption and ineffective management."The real success at this CoP was the parties agreeing a National Ivory Action Plan process which will ensure that those parties that fall along the trade chains‚ through which the greatest volumes of illegal ivory flow‚ address a series of fundamental issues that facilitate illegal trade."There is clearly a global expectation that Africa must preserve its elephants in perpetuity – but that will simply not happen without sustainable conservation finance for elephant conservation. A global tax and funding mechanism must be found or Africa’s elephants will be lost regardless of the paper protection‚" Thomas said.

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