Why we must stop the trade of baby African elephants
Separating the baby elephants from their herds and exporting them to other countries is barbaric. We must stop this cruel trade.
There have been some real wins for animals this week at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
But for me, I am waiting with bated breath for the plenary on Tuesday. There we will find out if the debate around the proposal for a ban in the exporting of wild baby elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana will be reopened.
Along with many people I was thrilled last Sunday when a number of African elephant range states (countries where elephants are found in the wild) supported a call for a ban on the trade of live baby elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to captive facilities such as zoos and entertainment facilities across the world. Since 2012, more than 100 baby elephants in Zimbabwe have been taken from their herds and sold in this way. A ban would end this.
To be passed at CITES a proposal needs to get a majority with two-thirds of the vote. On Sunday, the resolution for the ban passed with 46 Parties voting for it, 18 against and 19 abstaining. The USA and Canada voted against the ban. Due to an administrative issue, the EU did not actually vote but spoke out to say that they do not support the ban.
Decisions made at CITES are not affirmed until the plenary session which will take place this Tuesday. At this point, it is highly likely that the EU will re-open discussions on this issue and will vote against the ban. The EU represent 28 votes so if this happens, it will push the majority the other way and the bill will not pass.
This is heartbreaking. A few years ago I spent time volunteering in Zambia, studying the behaviour of baby elephants orphaned due to poaching or human-elephant conflict. Their situation was different but just like the elephants being exported, they suddenly found themselves alone and in unfamiliar surroundings. The stress of these young elephants separated from their herds was tangible. For the elephants I volunteered with, they were at the beginning of a long road of rehabilitation and re-release. This would take years and years of specialised diets and learning to trust their new family of other orphaned baby elephants and their dedicated keepers. With incredible people working 24-7 to get them back on their feet, this was no easy path.
Yet, in terms of their future, these are very much the lucky ones. In order to get elephants to export, the babies in a herd will be shot with a tranquilliser dart. A helicopter will often go out and keep the herd away from the darted babies so that men on the ground can go and collect them. The Guardian posted some incredibly upsetting footage of this in 2017.
CITES is so important. We need to let European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Karmenu Vella know that the people of the EU support the ban and we want them to support it if the debate reopens on Tuesday. Please send a letter of support today and tell European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Karmenu Vella that we want wildlife to stay in the wild.