The most recent meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species took place this past week in Geneva, Switzerland.

Decisions taken at the conference will have a real and immediate effect on the legislation, regulation, and operating practices underlying the international trade in species. These decisions will also have a direct impact on biodiversity, people's livelihoods, and national economies going forward.

The conservation community achieved three key victories, in that the Parties voted to:

  1. Maintain the strict controls on the trade in rhino horn.
  2. Prohibit the trade of live elephants to ex-situ destinations in all but exceptional circumstances.
  3. Control the trade of giraffes as per Appendix II.

Applications by Namibia and eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) to downgrade their Southern White Rhino populations between Appendix I and Appendix II and to remove Appendix II classification, respectively, were rejected.

Burkina Faso proposed that the trade of live elephants should only occur between in situ conservation programmes or secure areas within the species natural range. This proposal received support from Benin, India, the Central African Republic and Costa Rica.

Despite opposition from Zimbabwe, eSwatini, Zambia, Namibia and other Southern African countries, the proposal passed. Albeit with a critical amendment proposed by the European Union; namely that the trade of live elephants to ex-situ destinations should be allowed in exceptional or emergency circumstances and only when subject to robust scientific and management scrutiny.

What is more, the following proposals made by Zambia and Botswana, respectively, were comprehensively rejected:

  • Transfer the elephant populations of the former from Appendix I to Appendix II.
  • Allow the latter (as well as South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe) to conduct a sale of government-owned ivory stockpiles.

Noting a 40% decline in population figures over the past 30 years, Chad introduced a proposal to upgrade giraffes to Appendix II. This recommendation was widely supported, with the Central African Republic, Kenya, Niger, Mali, Senegal, the United States and New Zealand all in agreement.

Although range states such as Tanzania, Botswana, eSwatini, Namibia and Mozambique opposed the proposition, it ultimately passed by a vote of 106 versus 21.

One of the most critical outcomes from last week's meeting is the increasing polarisation amongst attendees of the conference. Southern African states have become increasingly pro-trade in respect to what they view as national wildlife assets and are steadfast in their objection to the excessive regulation thereof.

This approach stands in contrast to the position taken by most other African states as well as other significant roleplayers from across the globe.