Wild elephants must stay in Africa as zoo trade is banned

27 August 2019 - 18:18 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Zoos will no longer be able to import wild-caught elephants from Africa to countries outside the natural habitat.
Zoos will no longer be able to import wild-caught elephants from Africa to countries outside the natural habitat.
Image: 123RF/Byrdyak

Live elephants will no longer be exported from Africa, except “in exceptional circumstances”.

This is a resolution taken by parties at the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP 18) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in Geneva on Sunday.

The Foundation Franz Weber welcomed the decision.

"For Foundation Franz Weber (FFW), an organisation that has been at the forefront of the protection of elephants for the past 40 years, this decision is a huge advance towards the well-being of African elephants," it said in a statement.

The export of live wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to zoos and circuses beyond the African elephant range has, until recently, been legal under international law, FFW said.

The recent decision by the parties at the conference, means that the zoo industry will no longer be able to import wild-caught African elephants from Africa to their facilities in the United States, China, and many other countries outside the natural habitat of the species.

"People no longer want to see African elephants locked up alone and depressed in zoos,” said Vera Weber, FFW president. 

“They want elephants to be protected in their natural environment. Times have changed and zoos will have to adapt. The EU’s momentous change of heart means that more than 30 baby elephants in captivity in Zimbabwe cannot now be exported to China. For that we are immensely grateful,” she added.

According to FFW, "widespread" public opinion weighed heavily in determining the decision.

"A letter sent by several public figures, including Pamela Anderson, Brigitte Bardot, and Ricky Gervais, to EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, called on the EU not to reopen the debate and change its position to accept the AEC [African Elephant Coalition]  proposal. Under mounting pressure, Brussels reacted quickly, and made contact with members of the AEC to seek a solution to the situation," FFW said.

The EU had initially rejected the proposal to no longer export elephants beyond Africa, but were outnumbered by votes as not all its members were credentialed.

"Under the rules of the Convention, however, the EU was permitted to call for a re-vote in the COP plenary session. That re-vote took place today and, against expectations, the EU reversed its original rejection of the proposal to ban trade in live African elephants," FFW said.

This occurred, FFW said, after a" "behind-the-scenes" compromise was reached between the EU delegation and the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), a group of 32 African elephant range states.

"Following intense negotiation, the AEC, in the spirit of diplomacy and cooperation, agreed to concede to a minor addition to the text – that elephants may be exported beyond their natural range only “in exceptional circumstances”.


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