Major boost in global fight against illegal ivory trade at CITES conference

South Africa (WWF) – The global fight against the illegal ivory trade received a major boost in South Africa today when CITES countries voted against proposals from Namibia and Zimbabwe to open legal ivory trade from their countries.

The vote comes a day after countries from around the world called for a closure of domestic ivory markets and backed the CITES-led National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process.

“The decision to maintain the existing ban on international ivory trade was the right one for elephants,” said Ginette Hemley, WWF Head of Delegation to CITES CoP17.

“African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory, and opening up any legal trade in ivory would complicate efforts to conserve them. It could offer criminal syndicates new avenues to launder poached ivory, undermining law enforcement, and would undercut efforts to reduce the consumer demand that is driving the mass poaching,” she added.

Initiated at the last CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Bangkok in 2013, the NIAP process currently involves 19 countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade chain, including 12 in Africa and 7 in Asia.

“After hours of grueling negotiations behind closed doors, WWF is very pleased to see that countries have now united behind a deal that strengthens the national ivory action plan process, which is absolutely central to the global fight against the illegal ivory trade,” said Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF Global Wildlife Policy Manager.

Under the process, these countries have had to develop and implement national ivory action plans to ramp up their efforts to tackle the illegal trade.

“Led by CITES, this process has recently begun to yield results and this agreement will ensure that countries build upon these successes and take more concrete steps to stop the poaching, trafficking and buying of illegal ivory,” added O Criodain.

It was critical that CoP17 in Johannesburg continued to focus attention on the NIAPs and act to strengthen the process. And they have – acknowledging the importance of the ivory action plans and backing revisions that will enhance the overall impact of the NIAP process.

In particular, all stages of the process to select countries for inclusion in the NIAP process, drafting of their action plans, implementation and exit from the process must now be evaluated by the Secretariat in consultation with independent experts, including ICCWC, which will make recommendations to the Standing Committee.

In future, the selection of countries will be based on data from the Elephant Trade Information System as the “first cut” but will also take into account other relevant data.

Pete Coutts/Flikr

Pete Coutts/Flikr


“The world has made its position clear on how to tackle the illegal ivory trade: backing the national ivory action plan process is the best way forward. The decisions taken here in Johannesburg will not immediately slow the slaughter of Africa’s elephants, but they will have a major impact in the years to come as countries all along the illegaltrade chain implement their ivory action plans,” said O Criodain.

But countries will still have to rigorously implement their plans, and their progress also need to be independently reviewed.

“Tough talk in committee rooms is one thing. If those countries most implicated in the illegal trade fail to take the tough measures required, the rest of the world will have to hold them to account,” said O Criodain.



This report prepared by World Wildlife Fund.