As the world awaits China’s total and permanent ban on the sale of ivory, it should be noted that not all African countries want this measure to take effect. Zimbabwe and Namibia, for instance, had filed for petitions in 2016 to lift the international ivory trade ban and allow the sale of ivory again. These countries argue that their elephant populations are healthy enough to sustain ivory trade and that the sale of ivory could potentially benefit local populations. In addition, during the one-off sale of the ivory stockpiles from 2008 discussed above, CITES had allowed these southern African nations to sell their ivory to Japan and China if they agreed to not propose the sale of ivory again for the following nine years.

It has almost been nine years, and these African nations wanted to renegotiate the ban.

CITES, however, rejected their proposal. The Head of Delegation for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at CITES, Ginette Hamley, praised the rejection saying, “…African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory and opening up any legal trade in ivory would have complicated efforts to conserve them.”

That was not the only proposal that CITES rejected, however. The move to classify all African elephants as the most endangered was also rejected. This proposal, which Kenya, Benin and 29 other African nations supported, was rejected after opposition from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. These nations in southern Africa once again claimed that they should not be included in this continental move as they maintain a stable elephant population. It should be noted that China had supported this proposal, which also entailed the total ban (domestic, international and trophy) of trade involving elephants once they are classified as most at risk. Japan on the other hand, was on the side of the southern African nations.

There is a clear divide on how to best protect African elephants while still benefitting local populations. Delegations from southern Africa such as Rowan Martin, Zimbabwe’s representative to CITES, believe that wildlife is not something to be shared and protected by all nations but that they are the wealth and the burden of their country of origin. Martin was quoted saying, “Wildlife is being treated as a global commons…activists in the West say wildlife belongs to everybody. The hell it does! It belongs to the people on whose land it occurs. The people who pay for it!”

Irrespective of who owns a country’s wildlife, it is undeniable that human suffering directly leads to the decline of precious animals.  Researchers have even found that areas where child mortality and poverty are the worst also see higher levels of elephant poaching.. While all governments agree that elephants should not be decimated and driven to extinction, some believe that outlawing legal trophy hunting and trophy imports would further impoverish local communities. This, they argue, would further push these local populations to engage in illegal poaching. Edna Molewa, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, argues, “Trophy hunting is the best return on investment for elephant protection and has the least impact.”

The battle to save African elephants will most certainly continue to rage on. Regardless of African disagreements on how to proceed, China needs to continue its efforts to clamp down in its own markets in order to discourage the illegal trade of ivory. Recent reports have been disheartening, however. As China is cracking down on illegal ivory, Vietnam is becoming a major market and has proven to be a path for smuggling ivory into China. Reports suggest that the amount of ivory on sale in Vietnam has shot up by more than 600 percent in the last 8 years. There is certainly much more work to be done in saving African elephants from the seemingly insatiable Asian demand.

UPDATE: After the writing of this report, on December 31st, 2016, China announced a plan to phase out all ivory processing and trade by the end of 2017. CNN has reported that the country intends to force legal ivory processing factories to close by March 2017. The government also intends to regulate legal ivory collection aggressively while raising awareness about the dangers of the ivory trade.  In addition, ivory carving experts will be encouraged to find work with museums or undertake in preservation efforts. China will also not allow Ivory products to be displayed on online and offline markets and only noncommercial locations such as museums will have this privilege.