Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Encourage CITES to Return to a Full Ban on Ivory Trade

Posted: 29 January 2013. Updated: 4 March 2013


CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a legally binding treaty (international law), an agreement between governments regulating international trade of endangered and protected species.

The CITES convention was originally drafted in 1963, with the text of the convention signed in 1973 following its adoption by 80 countries (each country being known as a “Party” to the convention). It entered into force in 1975 and now has 177 Parties joined to the convention. CITES is legally binding on the Parties, but does not replace national laws; it provides a framework for each Party to adopt domestic legislation to implement CITES in their country.

Each Party to the Convention designates one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering the rules and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species. In the UK, the CITES authority is the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and in the US, it is the US Fish & Wildlife Department (USFW).

The government representative of the Parties to CITES meet every three years at their Conference of the Parties (COP) to discuss and vote on changes to the international law on wild animal and plant trade. The next COP will be held in Bangkok (Thailand), 3-14 March 2013.


Elephants worldwide are severely threatened with extinction, due to a dramatic increase in ivory poaching, illegal trade, and increasing numbers of elephants being kept in captivity by those ill-equipped to provide appropriate care for them.

The category offering the most protection for an animal or plant species is Appendix I, which includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Currently, elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe do not have Appendix I protection. These elephants are downlisted to Appendix II. What this means for the elephants is they can be killed by trophy hunters who can then take tusks and other body parts home. It also allows trade in hides, hair and leather goods, jewelry items made of ivory, and for these countries to sell internationally designated stockpiles of ivory.

Around 30,000 African elephants are currently killed each year for the ivory trade.

It is imperative that all elephants be included in CITES Appendix I and that CITES returns to a full ban on ivory trade. We need your help to ensure this happens. For details see ‘What you can do’ below

Illegal Elephant Ivory Trade

  • A criminal cartel in Kenya wiped out an entire family of 12 elephants for their ivory in the worst single incident of its kind in the country.
  • On January 5, 2013, Hong Kong’s customs seized 779 ivory tusks weighing more than a thousand kilos (over two thousand pounds) and valued at more than £900,000 (nearly $1.5 million). This is the most recent of the four largest seizures in 4 months (which total a staggering 12 tons).
  • Human lives are also being lost, as armed poachers have gunned down park rangers in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and elsewhere across Africa.


Elephants Kept in Captivity

ADI has collected decades-worth of evidence proving that elephants in captivity experience terrible abuse, suffering and premature death. Furthermore, elephants born in captivity have a very high mortality rate. Time and again, it has been proven that it is impossible to properly provide for the safety and welfare of elephants outside their natural habitat.

Circus Elephants and the Effects of Constant Travel & Confinement

ADI evidence on the use of elephants in traveling circuses both in the US and around the world have shown that the traveling circus is a totally inappropriate setting for elephants and other wild animals. The constant travel makes it impossible to provide them with a suitable environment.

The scientific literature on the effects of captivity, confinement and transportation of animals in a range of industries demonstrates that whether of an exotic/wild or domestic species, animals in traveling circuses are likely to suffer from the effects of constant travel, lack of space to move around and/or constant chaining, a common lack of normal social groupings, poor facilities and limited provision for their welfare.

It is clear from ADI empirical studies and the scientific evidence that, even with the best will in the world, the nature of the traveling circus means that it cannot provide standards of welfare and husbandry that will enable animals to maintain optimum physical and psychological health.

Elephant Abuse

ADI investigations, and those of others, have exposed the culture of animal handling and training in the circus and animal entertainment industry to be violently abusive. Many hours of video evidence have been released, showing that pain, punishment and fear are the methods used to force elephants and other wild animals to perform tricks.

Trainers and workers have been filmed routinely using metal bars, pitchforks, whips, the ankus/bullhook (a bar with a metal hook on the end), as well as electric prods and even stun guns to force the animals to perform; the animals comply because they are too frightened to disobey.



The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) announced in January 2012 the approval of new standards for human interaction with elephants. The new ‘Protected Contact’ standards will provide greater safety for elephant care workers as well as enhanced animal welfare at AZA-accredited and AZA-certified facilities. Protected Contact requires that keepers work with the animal protected behind barriers and consequently eliminates the use of weapons, such as bullhooks, to control and punish the elephant. It is a system that ensures the safety of the keeper and the welfare and comfort of the elephant. Protected Contact also eliminates elephant rides as this practice is inherently dangerous.

The new Protected Contact policy states: “As soon as possible, and no later than September 1, 2014, elephant care providers at AZA facilities shall not share the same unrestricted space with elephants” and will “train their elephant care professionals to manage and care for elephants with barriers and/or restraints in place that provide employee safety.” All AZA accredited zoos or AZA certified facilities must comply with these new guidelines or they will lose their AZA accreditation or certification.

The Seattle Times in December 2012 reported that “The Times did a first-of-its-kind analysis of 390 elephant fatalities at accredited U.S. zoos for the past 50 years. It found that most of the elephants died from injury or disease linked to conditions of their captivity, from chronic foot problems caused by standing on hard surfaces to musculoskeletal disorders from inactivity caused by being penned or chained for days and weeks at a time.

Of the 321 elephant deaths for which The Times had complete records, half were by age 23, more than a quarter of a century before their expected life spans of 50 to 60 years. For every elephant born in a zoo, on average another two die. At that rate, the 288 elephants inside 78 U.S. zoos could be “demographically extinct” within the next 50 years because there’ll be too few fertile females left to breed, according to zoo-industry research."

In 2006, Gita, an elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo, collapsed and died – the second elephant death at the zoo in two years. LA Zoo medical records reveal that Gita was suffering from severe foot infections and arthritis.

Sadly, such incidents are not uncommon, and are a direct result of inherent limitations of a zoo’s environment. In the wild, elephants are not prone to many of the life-shortening ailments that they suffer in captivity, because they walk on natural earth and rocks; they roam freely (over 30 miles per day) in climates that are natural for their species. It is simply not possible to properly re-create this in a man-made environment with the limited space available in a zoo.

What You Can Do

  • Contact your government department responsible for CITES (the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in the UK and the US Fish & Wildlife Department (USFW) in the US) and your Member of Congress or Member of Parliament. Urge them to ensure all elephants fall under the protection of CITES Appendix I and return to a full ban on ivory trade. Ask your friends and family to do the same.
  • Click here for the complete list of National CITES Contacts.
  • Write to your local newspaper and outline some of the points made here, and ask people to support this campaign by writing to their CITES Management Authority and national elected legislators (see above for details).
  • Facebook and eAlerts – “Like” ADI’s facebook and sign up to our eAlerts so that you can do more to help save wild elephants from extinction.
  • Support ADI and ask others to do the same.

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