The regulator of global wildlife trade is to impose a near-total ban on sending wild elephants to zoos.
The decision comes after a meeting at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), where delegates have voted in favour of the decision.
The new ruling will limit the controversial trade of wild-caught African elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to zoos. The only exception being if the transfer of a wild-caught elephant from either of those countries to a zoo was approved by CITES Animals Committee itself.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) welcomed the decision. It was passed by a vote of 87 in favour, 29 opposing and 25 abstaining. It was met with strong opposition from Zimbabwe, while the United States also opposed the proposal.
Speaking about the landmark decision, Audrey Delsink, wildlife director at Humane Society International/Africa said:
This is a momentous CITES decision for Africa’s elephants and despite compromised language being introduced by the EU, we are relieved by its passing. While it is disappointing that it is not an outright ban on trade in live elephants, the new language adds vital independent oversight and scrutiny.
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. The capture of wild African elephants for export to zoos and other captive facilities is incredibly traumatizing for individual elephants as well as their social groups.
Public sentiment is shifting, and people are increasingly outraged at the senseless and cruel practice of snatching baby elephants from the wild to live a life as a zoo exhibit.
Countless elephant experts, animal lovers and celebrities from around the world urged countries to end this injustice by affirming the CITES ban, and we are so glad that our collective voices were heard.
The definition of what is an appropriate destination is key, and the independent oversight by elephant specialists is critical, and so we will remain vigilant as that discussion develops, and fight against any attempts to justify or prolong trade in live baby elephants for captive purposes. We are extremely grateful to Kenya and the African Elephant Coalition for their efforts to protect wild African elephants.
Before now, elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana were listed on CITES with an annotation which allowed them to be exported to ‘appropriate and acceptable’ destinations. Because of this, elephants were able to captured in the wild and sent to zoos in China and elsewhere.
The practice was highly controversial however, drawing intense condemnation from animal protection and conservation groups. While there is not yet an outright ban, the new amendment goes a long way to drastically reduce the trade of wild elephants.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.