Press Releases

Beyer Leads House Delegation to Restore Elephant Protections

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Washington, September 21, 2016 | comments

Congressman Don Beyer today led 54 members of the House of Representatives in urging U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and the Obama Administration to advocate restoring all African elephants to Appendix I status under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), banning the international ivory trade. 

“The simple truth is that a lawful international market for elephant ivory ultimately encourages widespread poaching and illegal trade. History has shown CITES Appendix I listing of all African elephants to be a particularly effective means of protecting these incredible animals whose numbers have been declining dramatically in recent years,” said Rep. Beyer.

The countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe downgraded elephant protections to Appendix II in the 1990s, paving the way for the creation of limited legal ivory markets into which contraband ivory from illegal poaching continues to flow.

"The voting member nations of CITES have the chance to take concrete action that would help stop the wholesale slaughter of some of the most magnificent and complex animals on earth," stated Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. "We urge Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe, as head of the U.S. delegation, to heed the call from these Members of Congress and ensure that our government does not stand idly by while the carnage that fuels the global ivory trade continues."

The letter’s authors wrote:

“The need for consistency in interpretation and application of CITES, the enormous practical value of listing all elephants under Appendix I, and the experiences and appeals of the large majority of elephant range states make it abundantly clear that strong and vocal support for an Appendix I listing is the best course of action if the United States is to remain a leader in conservation and in the global fight to combat the poaching crisis that continues to fuel widespread devastation and drive elephants towards extinction.”

See the full letter below:

September 20, 2016

The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary of the Interior
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Jewell:

Elephants across most of their African habitat countries have endured severe poaching in recent years, with losses totaling more than 30,000 fatalities per year, for several years on end.  Certain decisions made by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the UN-administered endangered species treaty, are unfortunately responsible for a large share of the current crisis. Although African elephants were classified under Appendix I in 1989―with strong U.S. support―CITES subsequently down-listed the elephants of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, in addition to authorizing “one-off experimental” sales totaling about 150 tons of ivory. These actions provided a rejuvenated market into which enormous volumes of contraband ivory is being laundered.

The United States has recently made important policy advances to protect elephant populations and combat the devastating effects of widespread poaching: a near complete prohibition of domestic ivory markets, the destruction of ivory stockpiles, and the creation of a Presidential Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking―all of which have been warmly welcomed by many Members of Congress as well as by the conservation community. Yet despite these crucial efforts, the United States runs the risk of equivocating on the most important initiative of all: the restoration of all African elephants to CITES Appendix I, a classification which prohibits commercial trade globally.

CITES will be meeting again for its triennial session from September 24 to October 5, 2016 in South Africa. Twenty-nine countries of the African Elephant Coalition, including many of America’s allies, are sponsoring and encouraging a proposal that would restore all African elephants to CITES Appendix I. These countries, which represent the vast majority of African elephant range states, have suffered intense poaching in recent years and are appealing for support in their efforts to suppress the criminal exploitation of their elephants. The United States has been unfortunately silent on the Appendix I issue and, to date, has not announced its position. There is serious apprehension in the conservation community that the United States may oppose restoring all elephants to CITES Appendix I.

The recently released census data from 18 African countries―with a mere 352,271 savanna elephants surveyed―reveal a catastrophic decline and provide further evidence for the need to take immediate action. It is critically important for the United States to announce its support for the CITES Appendix I listing of all African elephants, and to give that support substance by presenting interventions and casting votes at the CITES upcoming meeting. The reasons for this include:

1.  The only time in recent history when elephants enjoyed relative peace from poaching pressure were the years 1990–1997, when all populations were on CITES Appendix I, and there was no question that any commercial trade in ivory was illegal. These years represent the “gold standard” for elephants, and provide clear evidence that the Appendix I listing works better than any other mechanism. 

2.  The United States played a leading role in achieving the 1989 Appendix I listing, but any uncertainty or wavering with respect to the present Administration’s CITES policy will surely be noticed by ivory trade interests and potentially interpreted as a signal that the U.S. may support legalized ivory trade in the near future.

3.  The present “split-listing” of elephant populations is inconsistent with the text of CITES that was ratified by the United States government. That text defines “species” as “any species, subspecies, or geographically separate population thereof” (Article I (a)). The elephants of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are not a separate species. Nor are they a separate subspecies. Nor are they a “geographically separate population.” Rather, these elephants freely migrate across international borders and interbreed with other elephants outside of the identified countries. They are not “geographically separate” and consequently they should not be subject to a separate listing within the treaty.

4.  Twenty-nine countries seek American support for the Appendix I listing. These include most of the elephant range states. For most, the ramifications of this proposal extend far beyond the saving these animals. Important cornerstones of national economies, especially the ability to generate foreign revenue, are tied to this issue. Ivory trafficking is persistently linked to crime and violence―smuggling, fraud, conspiracy, corruption, money laundering, intimidation, and homicide. U.S. government agencies have repeatedly established the connection between the ivory trade and violent militias and terrorist groups around the world. 

The need for consistency in interpretation and application of CITES, the enormous practical value of listing all elephants under Appendix I, and the experiences and appeals of the large majority of elephant range states make it abundantly clear that strong and vocal support for an Appendix I listing is the best course of action if the United States is to remain a leader in conservation and in the global fight to combat the poaching crisis that continues to fuel widespread devastation and drive elephants towards extinction. Thank you for considering our request.

Sincerely,

Donald S. Beyer Jr.                  Gerald E. Connolly

Vern Buchanan                        Michael M. Honda

Earl Blumenauer                      Raúl M. Grijalva

Paul D. Tonko                         Stephen F. Lynch

Jerry McNerney                       Adam Smith

James R. Langevin                   Tony Cárdenas

Alan Grayson                          Julia Brownley

John Garamendi                      Alan Lowenthal

Dina Titus                                Peter A. DeFazio

Mike Quigley                           Sam Farr

William R. Keating                  Steve Cohen

Zoe Lofgren                             Donna F. Edwards

Chris Van Hollen                     Michael E. Capuano

Keith Ellison                            John A. Yarmuth

Elijah E. Cummings                 Jerrold Nadler

David N. Cicilline                    Theodore E. Deutch

John Conyers, Jr.                     Eliot L. Engel

Adam B. Schiff                       Nydia M. Velázquez

Eleanor Holmes Norton           Gregory W. Meeks

Frank Pallone, Jr.                     Nita M. Lowey

Suzan K. DelBene                   Anna G. Eshoo

Wm. Lacy Clay                       Brendan F. Boyle

Carolyn B. Maloney                Jared Polis

Steve Israel                              Betty McCollum

James P. McGovern                 Mark Pocan

Patrick E. Murphy                    Mark Takano

Susan A. Davis

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