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Animal Welfare: CITES

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What measures they are supporting or proposing with respect to elephants and the ivory trade at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) taking place from 3 to 15 June.

My Lords, the United Kingdom takes a keen interest in elephant conservation. We very much hope that the African nations themselves can agree on how to proceed in a manner that they feel best protects the African elephant, but we stand ready, along with our colleagues in the EU, to offer them assistance in their deliberations, should they ask for it.

My Lords, given that last year saw the highest number of confiscations in the illegal ivory trade since the ban was introduced in 1989, will my noble friend seriously consider a 20-year moratorium in the trade, not only to allow elephant populations to recover, but so that we can introduce a monitoring system of the legal trade in stockpiled ivory, on whose back the illegal trade in ivory has grown and prospered?

My Lords, as I hope was implied by my Answer, it is the view of the European Union, including the United Kingdom, that this decision is best arrived at by the African nations. It is quite clear that there is a split between two groups. As we speak, this matter is being discussed in The Hague, as is indicated by the dates in the Question. We stand by, and indeed are helping to facilitate, discussions between the groups of African nations so that a solution can be arrived at.

There is only one approved trading nation, and that is Japan, so the trade is not widespread. Japan has been effectively monitored, and so far it has satisfactorily maintained the requirements of that monitoring.

My Lords, what is the present position in northern Botswana, where recently there have been far too many elephants, causing hundreds of square miles of devastation? If that is still the position, is anything being done to accommodate Botswana’s need by allowing that country to increase its cull of elephants, or perhaps to assist it with a programme of translocation?

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Of the countries in the groupings, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe currently have an elephant population two or three times larger than when they were downsized to Appendix II of CITES, simply because of the success of the original ban under Appendix I. I understand that there is no large-scale culling at present, although selective culling is in place. That is how the stockpile has been created, along with seizures from the illegal trade. These issues are currently being discussed in The Hague by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The European Union is helping to facilitate discussions between the two blocs of African states, and we hope that a solution can be arrived at during today’s sitting of the committee.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the legal trade in Japan may well help to mask an illegal trade? What is the Government’s position on that?

My Lords, there is no evidence of that. Japan is the only trading nation—there is an application from China, but it has not been looked at yet because the country applied too late—and it has met all the requirements placed on it when it bought the second block of ivory, consisting of 60 tonnes in three tranches, which I understand was agreed in 2002. There is an agreement not to re-export. Japan has compulsory trade controls over the raw ivory, a comprehensive and demonstrably effective reporting and enforcement system for the worked ivory—that is, the products it makes—and the registering and licensing of all imports. Those who have looked at the monitoring of the situation have been satisfied that Japan has kept strictly to those requirements, hence the fact that the blocks of ivory have been allowed to be sold to them. We are satisfied with the monitoring that has occurred.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the organisations which lobby Members of your Lordships’ House on this subject do not adopt as even-handed a position as he has done today at the Dispatch Box?

My Lords, I am not quite sure how to answer that. I was talking to Defra officials in Brussels less than an hour ago about the current position. The committee was then meeting. We are desperate to ensure that there is an African solution to this problem—not an NGO solution, but an African one that they are satisfied with. There are grounds for a compromise between those who want a complete long-term ban and those who want trade that would both protect the African elephant and maintain the trade for those who want it. However, it is up to the African nations themselves to reach that compromise: we do not want the ex-colonial powers being seen to force it on them.

My Lords, last week, there was an informative meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on elephants and their survival over the next 100 years. Elephant management is critical to the future of elephant populations. As the Minister indicated, that includes culling and the appropriate deletion of certain elephant families. That is a decision that must be taken by individual countries. If culling becomes an accepted policy for elephant control and management, will the British Government support that?

My Lords, obviously, we want effective management and to ensure that there is no illegal trade or illegal killing of elephants. Where culling can be justified because of increases in the population, and where the poachers’ goods have been seized—the stockpile is made up of ivory from elephants which have died naturally, as well as seized goods—we would endeavour to support that, but we want to ensure that this is an African solution, which we will support.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that there is an African solution on the table now in respect of Kenya and Malawi, which have proposed a 20-year moratorium on that trade?

My Lords, yes, there are other African solutions on the table, proposing different figures. We are seeking to achieve a satisfactory compromise that everyone can work to; that can be maintained legally and monitored so that it is transparent; that protects the elephant; and, above all, that is a solution that the African states themselves can agree on. There is not one easy fix for this. I understand that three proposals are on the table this afternoon, and we hope that one of them can be agreed on by everybody concerned.