In 1979 an estimated 1.3 million elephants roamed the African continent, but by 1989 their numbers had been reduced to roughly 600,000, a precipitous 55% decline which overshadows the population increases during that time in countries more insulated from poaching. Recently it has been estimated that African bush elephant and African forest elephant populations across the continent were reduced 30% in the eight-year period from 2007-2014 alone. Yet on 3 October, 2016 sixty-nine member-nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to keep Southern African elephant populations on Appendix II which allows for limited trade as long as an export permit can be issued by the host nation for the animal or its parts.

Twenty-nine nations of the African Elephant Coalition proposed uplisting the Southern African elephants to Appendix I, which prohibits all commercial international trade, in an effort to reduce the poaching for elephant ivory that has been used for decades to fund freedom fighters and rebel insurgenciesBreaking with their previous position, Botswana, a Southern African nation also affected by this legislation, came out in support of uplisting the populations to Appendix I. Botswana’s Minister for the Environment, Wildlife, and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, said “we now realize that we can no longer support sales, we can no longer deal with this in a vacuum.”

Several nations at CITES CoP17, including Zimbabwe, argued on 3 October that import of ivory by consuming nations is already illegal, so any further legislative attempt to reduce elephant poaching through uplisting has no purpose. Zimbabwe and Namibia had earlier in the day proposed a domestic legal trade in elephant ivory for their respective countries, but were denied by popular vote. On the topic of keeping Southern African elephants on Appendix II, the delegate from the European Union said that “the proposal does not meet the biological criteria” because Southern African elephant populations were not declining as rapidly as populations across the rest of the continent.

CITES advises that “permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild,” however nations are self-policing in their usage and enforcement of export permits and recent undercover reporting has brought to light new evidence (video) that some importers in Asian markets are knowingly purchasing and re-selling illegal ivory. While a proposal to close all domestic ivory markets was unanimously agreed to by all 183 member-nations, the decision is non-binding and has no repercussions for failing to follow through.

View our interactive map below to see which countries voted against increasing the protections for the  African forest elephant and African bush elephant in Southern African nations to Appendix I. The countries shown in red rejected the proposal in favor of keeping these species listed on Appendix II, allowing for international trade in their ivory as long as the appropriate export permits, routinely faked, are supplied. Read more about the history of the ivory trade on Buyers of Elephant Ivory.

The following nations voted against maximum, international commercial trade protections for Southern African elephants: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Fiji, Gambia, Guyana, Iceland, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Norway, Peru, Russian Federation, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The European Union, as a single voting-block of 28 member-nations, also voted against uplisting African elephant species to Appendix I: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom.