By Gilbert Koech, The Star
A Kenyan delegation to a crucial conservation conference has dashed the hopes of countries keen to reopen the international ivory trade.
Various African countries were proposing the reopening of the trade at the ongoing 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP19) in Panama City. CoP19 is scheduled to run until November 25.
The proposal to reopen the ivory trade failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required to pass it.
Fifteen governments voted in favour, 83 against, with 17 abstentions.
Kenya has been fighting to ensure that the international trade in ivory stops.
The proposal, if successful, would have allowed the sale of ivory from national stockpiles of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
A similar proposal was rejected at the previous CITES conference in Geneva in 2019.
The Kenyan delegation is being led by Wildlife Research and Training Institute CEO Patrick Omondi.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare welcomed the decision, which it says will prevent the poaching of elephants for their tusks.
“We have seen the devastating effect of the ivory trade on elephant populations across the world that have been ruthlessly targeted by poachers,” IFAW deputy vice president of conservation Matthew Collis said.
“Any legal ivory trade provides opportunities for criminals to launder poached elephant ivory into the market. Much progress has been made in recent years to close down remaining ivory markets, so we are pleased this decision does not undo such progress.”
“We are sympathetic to the countries seeking to generate income for conservation, but we must find ways to do so without exposing elephant populations to the risk of further poaching,” Collis added.
Kenya has proposed the setting up of a fund to support elephant conservation in exchange for the destruction of ivory stockpiles.
Kenya’s proposal 66.2.2 seeks to establish a fund accessible to a range of states upon non-commercial disposal of ivory stockpiles to make resources available to support elephant conservation and research, livelihood and economic development programmes.
It proposed setting up a CITES working group to explore the feasibility and details of such a fund.
However, Kenya was asked to revise its proposal and return to the CoP next week to see if an agreement can be found.
Collis said there has never been a better time to find a new approach to supporting elephant range states in their conservation initiatives.
“There was a disastrous increase in poaching across Africa after the last ivory stockpile sales in 2008, and there are no obvious buyers this time around,” he said.
“IFAW is pleased that governments at CITES have chosen to reject repeating that failed experiment but we urge CITES governments to explore more innovative ways to get resources to elephant range states to protect their wildlife.”
In 2019, the country launched a new wildlife conservation campaign dubbed “Ivory Trade is a Rip Off” in a fresh effort to raise awareness and curb the illegal trade in ivory.
The campaign calls for the listing of the African Elephant in Appendix I of CITES – which includes species threatened with extinction – at the then 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) following the dwindling numbers of elephants as a result of poaching.
The campaign was supported by 31 other African states under the African Elephant Coalition.
The launch, which took place at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, was attended by Director of UN Environment’s Regional Office for Africa Juliette Biao, former Tourism CS Najib Balala, and representatives from Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Airways.
The 2021 National Wildlife Census Report showed Kenya has 36,280 savanna elephants, the fourth largest population in the world after Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania.