Donald Lehr for Fondation Franz Weber

19th Conference of the Parties of CITES Opens Tomorrow in Panama City

Analysis of Proposals and Documents on Elephants and Ivory

Providing analysis at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP 19) in Panama City, on behalf of Fondation Franz Weber, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, and Pro Wildlife.  Our experts are available for background and interviews.

CONTACT: Don Lehr / dblehr@cs.com / +1.917.304.4058


The CITES CoP 19 begins tomorrow, 14 November, and runs through 25 November.  The 183 Parties to the Convention (countries) will consider more than 100 proposals and documents submitted by governments to change the levels of protection of species of wild animals and plants that are in international trade.

The six listed below pertain to the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), trade in live elephants, management of ivory stockpiles, and closure of domestic ivory markets.  Summaries of each proposal and document follow, along with our position and a rationale.

PROPOSAL 5:  Proposal to list all elephants in Appendix I of CITES

PROPONENTS: Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Syrian Arab Republic

SUMMARY OF PROPOSAL: The inclusion of all populations of Loxodonta Africana (African elephants) to Appendix I, through transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I of the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.



·       The African elephant meets each of the criteria for inclusion in Appendix I given the marked population declines and the fact that many populations are not national but transboundary.

·       Since the last CoP, the IUCN Red List Assessment has shown a continued decline in the overall status of African elephants, and threats remain in place. The decline is described as “continuing and likely irreversible” because of illegal ivory trade and ongoing habitat loss.

·       The IUCN Red List Assessment in 2021 estimated over the last three generations rates of decline of 60% for African savanna elephants (now considered “Endangered”) and 86% for African forest elephants (“Critically endangered”).

·       The current global trends have seen domestic ivory markets being increasingly regulated or closing down (including China, EU, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, UK and USA).

·       The current split listing is inappropriate and has caused several legal anomalies, with Parties adopting different interpretations. This has caused inconsistency and confusion in the way CITES is applied to African elephants. For example, transboundary herds may be listed in Appendix I or II depending on which side of a country’s border they are on.

·       There is political pressure for the CoP to agree a common legal framework to manage African elephants. Uplisting would provide this common framework for ALL elephants, and provide the basis for coordinated action and unified protection for elephants across the continent.

PROPOSAL 4: Proposal to allow sale of raw ivory from government stockpiles of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe (and sale of leather goods from Zimbabwe for commercial purposes


SUMMARY OF PROPOSAL: This proposal amends Annotation 2 pertaining to the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to 1) trade in leather goods for commercial purposes for Zimbabwe and 2) trade in registered raw ivory from government stockpiles of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.  The Proposal claims the CoP has discounted ‘the importance of the Southern African elephant population and its conservation needs against other regions in Africa.



·       Proposals to amend the Appendices must satisfy the precautionary measures contained in Annex 4 of Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP17) which states that where there is uncertainty of the impact of trade on the conservation of a species, countries must act in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned and adopt measures that are proportionate to the anticipated risks to the species.

·       The IUCN Red List assessment considers African elephants as “endangered”, which supports a ban on commercial ivory trade.

·       76 per cent of Africa’s elephants are found in transboundary populations, including the populations of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The species is threatened in most range States. African elephant conservation can only be addressed effectively at the continental level.

·       International ivory markets are global in nature and do not distinguish between source countries with different levels of protection or management capacity. If international commercial ivory trade is re-opened, it will stimulate global demand, thus threatening all elephant populations.

·       The previous one-off sales stimulated demand for ivory in China and other Asian markets, and exacerbated elephant poaching and ivory trafficking. The one-off sale in 2008 resulted in “the greatest illicit ivory trade flows out of Africa” with 6,900kg of ivory seized in 2008.

·       The CoP19 ETIS report highlights that up to 2019 there were increased seizures of small worked and small and medium raw ivory.

DOCUMENT 66.2.1: Ivory Stockpiles

PROPONENTS: Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, Togo

SUMMARY OF DOCUMENT: The 74th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (SC74) recommended that CoP19 renew Decisions 18.184 and 18.185, which ask the Secretariat to report on total ivory stockpiles and identify countries that have not properly reported on the level of stockpiles within their territory, or that have not adequately secured those stockpiles.  Document 66.2.1 supports the SC74 recommendation proposes decisions to strengthen reporting, marking, and inventorying provisions, and urges countries to consider destruction of their stockpiles.



·       The level of ivory stockpiles worldwide is growing and presents a serious threat to elephants through leakage of ivory into illegal trade, which perpetuates demand and ongoing markets for ivory.

·       Record setting ivory seizures in 2019 raised serious questions about the source of the ivory and whether some of the seized ivory was leaked from stockpiles.

·       Ivory stockpiles are costly to secure and maintain. They risk theft and laundering of ivory from stocks onto the black market. Reports of ivory disappearing or being stolen from stockpiles are routine.

·       Under reporting of ivory stockpiles is a serious concern. Only 21 CITES Parties reported in 2020 while the Secretariat estimates that at least 44 Parties are likely to have stocks but did not report.

·       Continued maintenance of ivory stockpiles sends the signal that future ivory sales are anticipated. Destruction of ivory and putting ivory stockpiles beyond commercial use will help to neutralize expectations of future trade in ivory and will discourage future markets.

DOCUMENT 66.2.2: Establishing a Fund Accessible to Range States upon Non-Commercial Disposal of Ivory Stockpiles



A novel proposal to consider setting up a fund that elephant range States can access upon the non-commercial disposal of ivory stockpiles.  The fund would avoid the need for commercial ivory sales or buyouts by providing funding to support conservation initiatives and human elephant coexistence.

For years bids to open trade in ivory from stockpiles have generated controversy and signaled that global ivory trade may be restored. This signaling demand for ivory products, increasing poaching pressure on elephant populations.

The destruction or non-commercial disposal of ivory, i.e., putting it beyond commercial use, sends a clear signal ivory trade will not reopen and will discourage future markets. Likewise, the proposal to de-couple ivory quantities from funding levels further serves to de-value ivory.

Stockpile destruction reduces costs associated with stockpile maintenance and reduces the risk of leakage of stocks onto the black market.  A recent study documented ivory thought to be in stockpiles showing up in 2017-29 seizures.

DOCUMENT 66.3: Closure of domestic ivory markets

SUMMARY OF DOCUMENT: Supports implementation of Resolution Conf. 10.10 (Rev. CoP18) on closure of domestic ivory markets by evaluating open domestic ivory markets to ensure they are not contributing to poaching or the illegal ivory trade.  It highlights Japan as a non-range State ivory market with large stockpiles and porous controls, which continues to be a source of illegal ivory exports, undermining market closures by other Parties.  And it recommends the CoP renew Decisions 18.117 to 18.119 and adopt draft Decisions recommending an analysis of ivory seizures linked to Parties with open ivory markets and regular inclusion of the analysis in ETIS reports.  It also recommends the CoP to urge the Parties that still have open, egal domestic ivory markets that are demonstrably connected to illegal international trade in ivory to implement closure of their markets.

PROPONENTS: Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Liberia, Niger, Senegal and Togo



·       Recognizing that domestic ivory markets contribute to poaching and illegal trade, many Parties have taken steps to close or nearly close their ivory markets, including the US, China, Hong Kong SAR of China, Israel, the UK, EU and Singapore.

·       However, open ivory markets persist in a number of countries that continue to threaten the conservation of elephants.

·       Non-range States with open domestic markets should be prioritized for closure, since their markets can only be maintained by importing ivory from elephant range countries.

·       Japan is the largest and most significant remaining domestic ivory market. Further, there is significant evidence (outlined in CoP19 Doc. 66.3) that Japan’s domestic ivory market is contributing to illegal trade, with ongoing illegal ivory exports particularly to China.

·       Parties with legal domestic ivory markets need to be assessed regularly to determine if their domestic market is contributing to poaching or illegal international trade.

·       The renewal of Decisions 18.117 to 18.119 is necessary to maintain pressure on those Parties with domestic ivory markets, requiring them to report on measures taken to ensure their markets are not contributing to illegal trade or poaching.

·       Ivory seizures made by law enforcement authorities provide valuable information about trafficking routes and supply chains of illicit ivory markets. The ETIS seizure data and other relevant information can be analyzed to determine if there is a link between any particular ivory seizure and a Party’s legal domestic ivory market. This analysis should be included regularly in ETIS reports.

·       If this analysis demonstrates a connection between illegal international trade in ivory and those Parties with domestic ivory markets, then the CoP should recommend that those Parties take steps towards market closure (as required by Resolution Conf.10.10 (Rev.CoP18)).

DOCUMENT 66.4.1: Live trade in wild caught African elephants

SUMMARY OF DOCUMENT:  CITES Parties have been invited to propose to the CoP a “clear legal framework for trade in live African elephants”.  This document proposes to add a provision to Resolution. Conf. 10.10 (Rev.CoP18) on trade in elephant specimens, to limit trade in live African elephants taken from the wild to in situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild, within the species’ natural and historical range in Africa.

PROPONENTS: Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Senegal and Togo



·       The international trade in live, wild-caught African elephants, numbering 216 animals exported from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Eswatini and Tanzania between 2010 and 2022, is controversial and has generated widespread condemnation. A number of these elephants have been confirmed or are believed to have died in the destination countries. Others died during capture and preparation for export.

·       CITES recognizes in Res. Conf. 11.20 (Rev. CoP18) that elephants are highly social animals and that the removal of elephants from their social groups has detrimental effects on their physical and social well-being and disrupts the natal herds in the wild populations. It also acknowledges that if live, wild caught, African elephants are traded, the best way to promote their conservation is by limiting trade to in situ conservation programmes within their wild natural range.

·       At SC74, Parties expressed serious concerns about continued exports of elephants from Zimbabwe and Namibia, resulting in an invitation to CITES Parties to propose a clear legal framework for the trade in live African elephants.

·       This proposal provides Parties with a clear and unequivocal recommendation that would apply to live trade in all wild African elephants, regardless of where they are located or their current CITES listing.

·       The proposal reflects position of the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group which “…does not endorse the removal of African elephants from the wild for any captive use”, believing there to be “no direct benefit for in situ conservation”. It is also consistent with the position of the majority of African elephant range States, as affirmed at the 2018 African Elephant Coalition summit that the only appropriate and acceptable destinations for live wild African elephants are in situ conservation programmes within their wild natural range

DOCUMENT 66.7: Review of the National Ivory Action Plan Process

SUMMARY OF DOCUMENT:  The National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process has not been systematically evaluated for key gaps since its inception nearly a decade ago. The document calls for CITES Parties to agree to an external and independent review of the NIAP process and its Guidelines to ensure it continues to meet the goals of Resolution Conf. 10.10 (Rev. CoP18) to improve national and international responses to elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.

PROPONENTS: Malawi, Senegal and the United States of America



·       Despite helping to achieve progress in the fight against poaching and ivory trafficking, numerous Parties and Observers have noted that the NIAP process needs to be strengthened to prevent it from becoming a ‘’tick-box’’ exercise and to improve compliance with the process.

·       NIAP Parties are required to self-assess the progress they make under the process with little independent oversight, making it difficult to hold Parties accountable for implementing their NIAP activities. A review would clarify how independent experts can strengthen the assessments.

·       Several NIAPs are years out of date and only a handful of NIAP Parties have ever been requested to update or review their NIAPs. A review would address how to ensure regular updates of NIAPs and ensure more equity for Parties in the process.

·       Currently, Parties are chosen to participate in the NIAP process based on ETIS reports. However, there is currently no standard source of information or mechanism to determine whether a country has fully implemented its NIAP and can exit the process. A review could address this discrepancy to ensure criteria for exiting the process is the reverse of the criteria for entering the process- this is also necessary to provide clarity and equity for Parties in the process

·       There may be duplication of effort of compliance proceedings under NIAP (Resolution Conf. 14.3) and Article XIII and a review would address overlap.

·       A review could also assess how new tools, such as ICCWC, can be integrated into the process to strengthen NIAP Parties’ responses to poaching and trafficking.

OUTLOOK FOR TOMORROW – Monday 14 November

After the opening ceremony (where your national dress!) and welcoming addresses, negotiations will begin on administrative, financial and strategic matters, including rules of procedure, which may generate controversy.

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CITES was established in 1973, entered into force in 1975, and accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants.  Currently 184 countries are Parties to the Convention.

Ivory trade

All populations of African elephants were listed on CITES Appendix I in 1989, effectively banning international ivory trade.  But the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) were down-listed to Appendix II (a less endangered status) to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008.  In 1980, the African elephant population was estimated at 1.3 million individuals.  In 2015, the year of the last elephant census, only 415,428 remained according to the 2016 IUCN African Elephant Status Report estimates, a decline of 68 percent. Forest elephants have declined by 86 percent in the past 30 years, according to the IUCN.


Fondation Franz Weber (FFW), based in Bern, Switzerland, has been campaigning for the survival of the African elephant and the complete ban of the trade in ivory for 40 years. FFW has had observer status at CITES since 1989 and has been a partner of the African Elephant Coalition since its creation in 2008.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) based in the UK, is a highly effective wildlife conservation charity founded in 1984 by wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd (1931-2017) to help save endangered wildlife.  DSWF works to fight wildlife crime, protect endangered species, and engage local communities to protect their native wildlife and associated habitats across Asia and Africa.  The Foundation focusses on maximum conservation impact by taking a long-term holistic approach to the issues surrounding the species that they work to protect, fighting for greater legal protection of endangered species, funding international cross-border enforcement programmes and building capacity of key law enforcement networks.  DSWF also supports undercover investigations into wildlife crime and campaigns to bring an end to the trade in the parts of endangered wildlife.

Pro Wildlife (PW), based in Munich, Germany, is committed to protecting wildlife and works to ensure the survival of species in their habitat, as well as the protection of individual animals.  This includes advocacy, strengthening national and international regulations, ensuring their implementation, and funding vital conservation projects.

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