Eyes wide shut: Southern Africa’s elephants now in the firing line

Aug 8, 2019 | Reports


Contrary to what the governments of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have suggested ahead of the 18th Conference of the Parties to CITES, poaching and ivory trafficking continue to pose a very real threat to elephant populations in Southern Africa. Strong measures are needed at CoP18 this month in Geneva to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control. A new factsheet produced by EIA, Eyes Wide Shut: Southern Africa’s Elephants Now in the Firing Line, highlights the threats facing Southern Africa’s elephants.

Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have submitted two proposals to decrease elephant protection and restart the international ivory trade – a practice we had hoped would never be repeated after we saw the repercussions on elephants the last time such a trade took place in 2008. Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted a proposal (CITES CoP18 Prop. 11) which would allow them and South Africa to sell their stockpiles of ivory. Zambia has submitted another proposal (CITES CoP18 Prop. 10) to decrease the protection of its elephant population under CITES,  also with a view to selling its ivory stockpile. EIA calls on world governments attending the upcoming 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to reject these proposals and to ensure that decision-making at CoP18 either increases or maintains existing protective measures for elephants under CITES.


The majority of African countries support the closure of domestic ivory markets (DIM). EIA recommends that Parties reject the proposals by Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe that seek to undermine the protection of elephants.
The most recent African elephants status report, published by IUCN in 2016, highlights that populations have faced a continental decline, mainly due to poaching for ivory.
Several sites in Southern Africa under the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants Programme (MIKE) have been flagged due to an increase in elephant poaching since 2016, including in Chobe National Park (Botswana), Kruger National Park (South Africa), South Luangwa National Park (Zambia) and Niassa Game Reserve (Mozambique).

Elephants are a migratory species and as a shared resource, coordinated conservation efforts are crucial to ensure their survival. The vast majority of African countries and the rest of the international community oppose re-opening the ivory trade, in recognition of the links between poaching, trafficking and trade. Eyes Wide Shut is a wake-up call for Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to face reality and ensure the long-term survival of their elephant populations.


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