Governments have voted to ban the export of wild, live-caught elephants from Africa to zoos around the world, apart from in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
This is following a long and intense week of discussions at the 18th Cites meeting in Geneva.
African elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana are currently listed on Appendix II of Cites, with an annotation that allows live elephants to be exported to ‘appropriate and acceptable destinations’. Under this definition, live baby African elephants have been captured from the wild for transport to zoos in China and elsewhere.
From 2012, more than 100 elephant calves were sent from Zimbabwe to Chinese zoos.
The EU originally opposed the ban but eventually changed its vote after intensive negotiations, resulting in a change to the wording. Exports will now be allowed, only in exceptional circumstances, if approved by the Cites Animal Committee and IUCN specialist group.
Eventually, the ban was passed with 87 votes to 29, with 25 abstentions.
Wildlife director Audrey Delsink, of Humane Society International/Africa, described the decision as “momentous”.
She added: “Public sentiment is shifting, and people are increasingly outraged at the senseless and cruel practice of snatching baby elephants from the wild to live a life as a zoo exhibit…
“The definition of what is an appropriate destination is key, and the independent oversight by elephant specialists is critical, and so we will remain vigilant as that discussion develops, and fight against any attempts to justify or prolong trade in live baby elephants for captive purposes.”