The shared nature of Africa’s elephants

Nov 1, 2017 | Studies

Keith Lindsay, Mike Chase, Kelly Landen, Katarzyna Nowak – November 2017 – Biological Conservation

ABSTRACT: The world’s biodiversity is shared by countries that are increasingly recognizing the need for effective responses to human influence and climate change impacts through coordinated management and protection of nature beyond national borders. The case of elephants, a highly mobile and widely distributed mammal that plays crucial ecological and economic roles in savanna and forest landscapes, exemplifies the need for approaches to conservation that transcend geopolitical frontiers. Transboundary cooperation can bring substantial conservation and economic benefits but also presents challenges for policy, governance, and diplomacy. While some multilateral environmental agreements have explicitly incorporated transboundary commitments into their frameworks, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)continues to focus on the sovereignty of individual nations in regulating trade of wildlife. This inward-looking approach is embodied by the continued“split-listing”by range States of African elephants between countries affording two levels of protection—Appendix I (no international commercial trade) and Appendix II (regulated trade). Using data from the African Elephant Status Report 2016, where savanna elephant data are based mostly on the recently completed Great Elephant Census, we show that 76% of elephants are found in populations spread across one or more national borders. This blurring of strictly national populations makes a split-listing of elephants between two CITES appendices—and varying levels of protection—inconsistent with ecological reality and conservation best practice. At the 17th CITES Conference of Parties (CoP17), in September–October 2016, influential parties prevented acceptance of a proposal, supported by the majority of elephant range states, that would have unified all African elephants under Appendix I. The real reasons for perpetuating the split-listing atCoP17 were ideological and political, and threaten to undermine the convention as an evidence-based and coordinated mechanism for conserving threatened species. Isolationist policies and politically motivated com-promises will help neither elephants nor people in an interdependent world facing common environmental challenges needful of harmonized agendas and scaled-up cooperation.

For full study:

(1) (PDF) The shared nature of Africa’s elephants. Available from:;s_elephants [accessed Jan 23 2019].