India’s unusual abstention in CITES vote on reopening ivory trade

Source: The post is based on the article “India’s unusual abstention in CITES vote on reopening ivory trade” published in Indian Express on 23rd November 2022.

What is the News?

For the first time, India has abstained and not voted against a proposal seeking to re-open the Ivory Trade at the ongoing conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES and Ivory Trade

At the start of the 20th century, millions of elephants roamed Africa. But a combination of trophy hunting, ivory trade and loss of habitat resulted in a catastrophic decline over the next few decades – falling to just 1.3 million in 1979 from 10 million in 1913.

In 1989, CITES banned international commercial ivory trade obtained from both African and Asian elephants. It did so by placing them in Appendix I of the convention, which bans trade in species threatened with extinction. 

But poaching did not stop – just over 286,000 elephants were counted in Africa in 1995. However, populations have stabilized since then.

In 1997, CITES moved African elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to Appendix II – which allows commercial international trade subject to certain restrictions.

Subsequently, in 1999 and 2008, CITES permitted these countries to conduct one-off sales of ivory stock. But these countries have been arguing that regular, controlled commercial ivory trade should be allowed.

However, Namibia’s proposal for allowing a regular form of controlled trade in ivory by delisting the elephant populations of the four countries from Appendix II was rejected in CoP17 (2016) and CoP18 (2019). 

At the ongoing CoP19, the proposal was moved by Zimbabwe but met the same fate.

What has been India’s stand on Ivory Trade?

The endangered Asian elephant was included in CITES Appendix I in 1975 which banned the export of ivory from the Asian range countries. 

In 1986, India amended The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to ban even domestic sales of ivory. After the ivory trade was globally banned, India again amended the law to ban the import of African ivory in 1991.

In 1981 when New Delhi hosted CoP3, India designed the iconic CITES logo in the form of an elephant. Over the years, India’s stand has been unequivocal on the ivory issue.

What has changed now?

For the first time, India has abstained from voting on a proposal to allow the commercial sale of ivory from African elephants.

The development comes after Namibia had claimed that it sought India’s help to reverse the ban on the global ivory trade as part of its deal to transfer African cheetahs.

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