The EPI team at CITES Standing Commitee meeting. From left to right; John Scanlon AO, Ruth Musgrave, Christina Godding and Ulysse Korogone.
Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) member states gathered on the margins of the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva. The EPI Foundation’s Ruth Musgrave and Ulysse Korogone reflect from Geneva on the EPI gathering, and broader developments at CITES.
EPI countries – united in their objective to stop the illegal killing of elephants - had the opportunity in Geneva to gather and share experiences of common concern. For the EPI Foundation, which works as the secretariat for EPI member states, the frank discussions helped us better understand how we can support these countries. Face-to face meetings help nurture existing relationships and develop new ones. There is nothing like spending time in the presence of cherished colleagues that we work with so closely, but usually only see on-screen.
A key issue brought up by EPI countries at our event, but also by other countries within the CITES Standing Committee (SC) plenary, was human-elephant conflict (HEC), and indeed human-wildlife conflict (HWC) more generally. EPI member states emphasised the need for increased efforts to address HEC, and expressed interest in trying new tools that could help them avoid or mitigate the problem.
Meeting with the EPI members who attended the larger CITES SC meeting in Geneva
The Nigerian delegation expressed concern about the 200 strong herd of elephants that cross each year into the north-east from neighbouring Cameroon, destroying farmers’ crops. This is a region where Boko Haram is active, making any intervention very difficult. The South Sudanese delegate was frustrated that while his colleagues can track the movements of collared elephants in real time, they feel powerless to prevent conflict with farmers. Cameroonian officials were keen to learn of methods that could help them predict the movements of forest elephants, which are often hard to detect.
Within the CITES SC itself, many of the long-standing conversations around ivory and stockpiles rumble on. There were some informal discussions about one-off ivory sales. This surprised delegates from many EPI countries, given that the previous three CITES Conferences of the Parties (CoPs) have conclusively rejected proposals to allow ivory sales. However, the underlying issue driving such conversations is financial. African elephant range states have limited resources, and, understandably, are searching for sustainable funding to effectively manage natural resources and protected areas. Ivory sales, however, would raise only a fraction of the finance required for effective conservation, to say nothing of the grave risk that they would once again fuel illegal trade and commercial poaching.
EPI Foundation CEO John Scanlon AO speaking on a panel at CITES SC meeting
Trade in live elephants was a big topic of conversation, with differing opinions and uncertainty as to what the prevailing CITES rules allow. Botswana offered to host an African elephant range state dialogue meeting, primarily focused on this issue, and this is expected to be held in early 2024.
Unfortunately, many countries are still not compliant with their CITES requirements; from reporting their stockpiles, to reporting on National Ivory Action Plans (NIAPS), to closing their domestic ivory markets. However, some CITES national focal points put forward a strong argument that they have an onerous task in meeting all of their obligations, which require reporting in different formats on a plethora of different species.
EPI Foundation's Ulysse Korogone speaking at the CITES SC meeting
The CITES SC meeting attracted little media or public interest, as these are generally more low key events than CoPs, which include the more polarising agenda items, such as species being included on, or being moved up and down, the appendices (which determine the application of international trade regulations).
Nonetheless, CITES remains an invaluable forum for dedicated conservationists. It gives them the opportunity to share accurate information to determine how, or whether, endangered species should be traded. We left Geneva enthused by many stimulating conversations with colleagues working on the frontline of African elephant conservation. Even in today’s digital age, an old-fashioned sense of camaraderie is still a wonderful thing!