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E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/29/2018 TAGS: KE PGOV PREL SENV SUBJECT: KENYAN ELEPHANT EXPERTS REGRET CITES DECISION ON IVORY TRADE WITH CHINA
REF: NAIROBI 1712
Classified By: ACTING ECON COUNSELOR GEORGE W. ALDRIDGE FOR REASONS 1.4 (B AND D).
1. (C) Summary: On July 15, the CITES Standing Committee granted China permission to import ivory from stockpiles held by Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe despite opposition from members of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) and Australia. In the face of arguments from Kenya, Mali, and other AEC nations that permitting a one-off sale to China would set a bad precedent and likely trigger increased poaching, thus endangering their elephant wildlife populations, the standing committee voted 9-3 with two abstentions, one being the United States. The standing committee ruled that China qualified for an exception to the 1989 ivory trade ban because of its recent seizures and improved enforcement of CITES ivory trade regulations. Following the one-off sale approved by CITES, several elephant experts and wildlife conservationists residing in Kenya uniformly agreed that the decision is unwise and unjustified. Two even claimed China had bribed several standing committee members to ensure passage of the one-off sale. The United States, failure to support Kenya and the AEC came as a major disappointment. End Summary.
Chinese arrested for Ivory Trafficking
2. (U) Following the July 15 9-3 decision by the CITES Standing Committee to approve a one-off sale of ivory to China from stockpiles held by Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, emboff canvassed the views of several renown wildlife conservationists and elephant experts in Kenya. They uniformly agreed that the CITES decision is unwise and joined with members of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), who argued in The Hague that China did not merit consideration and that allowing for a one-off sale would likely spur increased poaching. Ironically on July 16, the Kenya Customs Service (KCS) and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) arrested three Chinese at Nairobi,s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) after they were found possessing 36 pieces of finished and ready to sell ivory, weighing five pounds. Earlier this year, on May 14, JKIA authorities arrested two Chinese found illegally possessing 240 pounds of ivory. Another group of Chinese smugglers were apprehended in May carrying 184 pounds.
3. (C) KWS Senior Scientist Moses Litioroh, who is the Elephant Program Coordinator with Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE,) believes that the recent arrests of Chinese smugglers foretell the dangers of allowing China, reputedly the biggest black market in the world, to trade in ivory. He decried Beijing,s lack of preventive measures against illegal trading. Litioroh fears that the CITES decision will unleash pent-up demand for ivory within Africa, saying "this (decision) will open a wider market for ivory, which will then fuel more demand for ivory leading to increased poaching of our elephants." He sees the one-off sale opening the door to foreign poachers, thus placing significant pressure on Kenya to protect its elephant population from surrounding unstable countries such as Somalia and Sudan. Kenyan elephants are especially vulnerable, Litioroh explained, because of Kenya's geographical location and the KWS,s limited resources due to a severe reduction in tourism revenue resulting from the January-February post-election violence. He contended surrounding countries are most interested in Kenya,s wildlife population as means of getting rich quick and may try to send arms and marauders into Kenya to poach its elephants. Litioroh boldly charged that neighboring countries will do anything possible to get a hold of the tusks of Kenya,s jumbos ) including shooting KWS rangers. (Note: Somali elephant poachers killed three KWS rangers and seriously wounded another on May 19, 2007, while en route to Tsavo East National Park.) &Not only will more elephants die but the people who protect them are also likely to die as well,8 he predicted.
Allegations of Bribery by China
4. (C) Litioroh alleged China bought off several standing committee members, but did not pinpoint which countries he believes were bribed. He even hinted that China unduly influenced the CITES Secretariat in order to raise the possibility of an exception to the ban. Litioroh argued that China in its attempt to buy influence mimicked Japan, who he claimed in the past had allegedly bribed the CITES Secretariat to permit the Japanese to conduct &scientific whaling.8 James Isiche, East Africa Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Wildlife (IFAW), concurred with Litioroh that the Chinese likely bribed several committee members, but Isiche, too, did not name anyone.
5. (C) Saying he is dismayed by the CITES decision, Isiche is skeptical that the Chinese will be able to monitor the one-off sale. In Isiche,s opinion, China was not investigated properly. Only 10% of the contraband that is normally detected was seized by China in recent years. This small percentage, he maintained, is not enough for CITES to make such a conclusive decision in China,s favor. Isiche joined with Litioroh and other Kenyan observers in arguing that the Chinese have done a lax job in controlling illegal ivory trade in their country. In the meantime, Kenya will need to devote more resources towards protecting its 33,000 elephants, but Isiche worries that the Kenyan government is unlikely to do so at a time when there are more pressing issues such as healthcare and free public education. He agreed with Litioroh that the recent one-off sale is a signal to ivory smugglers to proceed because the market is now open. He states that in the past five years ivory has risen from $200 to $850 per kilo. He proposes that this increase will cause Japan and China to compete in ivory trade, thus causing ivory prices to go up, while creating more incentives to poach.
Doubts about Southern Africa,s Merit
6. (C) Isiche doubts that the Southern African ivory exporting countries will use the revenue from the one-off sales to Japan and China for conservation purposes. He posited that South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe benefited from a second buyer which would make the market more competitive and favorable to them in terms of negotiating one-off sale prices. Isiche noted that although Kenya has a difficult challenge Central Africa faces an even larger problem in protecting its elephants against poaching. The Deputy Director of the African Conservation Center James Ndungu similarly fears that CITES, good intention to rid ivory stockpiles from Southern African countries will cause more harm than good. There are other, more lucrative alternatives. Isiche, Ndungu, and others argued that elephants generate far more revenue through tourism.
CITES Disappoints Kenya
7. (C) Ali Kaka, Executive Director of The East African Wildlife Society (EAWS), asks that the United States joins with Kenya in demanding that CITES ensures transparency among the contracting parties. Kenya, he underscored, is disappointed in CITES and feels that the Secretariat used its discretion to approve China without guaranteeing that the member states comment on how the transactions will be regulated. Although he feels that the decision will not be reversed, he hopes that Kenya and the U.S. can raise awareness regarding the lack of knowledge of the trade arrangement,s details and the rashness of CITES, decision. Kaka echoed concerns about the vulnerability of Kenya,s wildlife because of the country,s location and recent post-election violence. Kaka argued this second CITES exception would cause a lot of confusion in Africa by misleading people into believing that the ban is lifted and thus inevitably causing more killing of elephants for ivory trade. He predicted that Kenya would deploy its armed forces to stop the illegal killing of elephants and would do so if poaching noticeably increases as a result of the one-off sale.
AWF to bring Chinese to Kenya
8. (C) The Director of Conservation Science for African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Dr. Philip Muruthi, also believes that the ivory sale to China, if not monitored, will trigger more illegal poaching of elephants in Africa. He fears that China will not be able to regulate the sale and too worries that it will inevitably increase poaching. What CITES failed to see, in his view, is that the preservation of African elephants is more beneficial and profitable than a collective sale of ivory because it generates tourism and creates jobs. To lessen demand, Muruthi said the AWF intends to educate the Chinese about wildlife conservation and will arrange exchange programs that bring them to Kenyato witness the beauty and value of elephant wildlife conservation as an alternative to ivory handcrafts.
9. (C) Independent elephant and rhino researcher and geographer Dr. Esmond Bradley Martin said CITES members inappropriately assume that China can manage trade in ivory as Japan does. He explained that Japan is capable of monitoring ivory because its heavier ivory products are so exclusive and expensive that very few people outside Japan would want to purchase them. China on the other hand is more susceptible to transshipment of ivory because its artisans demand a lighter ivory that is more affordable and readily attainable in most countries. There is a bigger market for this light ivory because it requires less craftsmanship yet may offer the same price. No one really knows the impact this new decision will have on the market, Martin confessed, but if it prompts an increase in the current price of ivory then poaching will surely intensify. Although CITES maintains that the growing numbers of illegal ivory seizures in China reflect more vigorous law enforcement, Martin holds that the confiscations just show that more ivory is coming into the country. Martin, who is widely recognized as the world,s foremost expert on trade in ivory, is not convinced that China has refined its regulatory regime to prevent transshipment of raw ivory and finished ivory pieces.
The World Did Not Listen
10. (C) Senior Assistant KWS Director for Biodiversity, Research, and Monitoring Patrick Omondi, who led the Kenyan delegation to The Hague, said CITES and the world community ignored the reservations presented by Kenya and other AEC members in allowing China and Japan to buy 180 tons of ivory. Omondi complained the CITES,s decision was based on &politics and not science.8 There was no scientific justification for CITES to certify China, especially given its reputation as a lead destination for illegal ivory. Kenya is resigned to the decision however unwise. Once the one-off sale is completed, there will be a nine-year ban on ivory sales, during which CITES will monitor the impact of the one-off sale. Omondi said Kenya will also monitor the sale,s impact on its elephant population.
11. (C) In contrast to views held by other wildlife experts, Omondi does not feel that Kenya,s elephant monitoring operations will suffer. He said KWS elephant protection efforts have kept pace despite the post-election violence and 90% reduction in tourism in 1Q 2008. Kenya is financially capable of monitoring illegal ivory trade, he contended, and will recover from the post-election violence by the end of the year. But the China sale does put added pressure on Kenya, which plans to increase the number of men trained as rangers, purchase more vehicles, and deploy the army if need be to quell poaching. KWS, Omondi confided, will likely request additional funds from the Treasury and its international partners to bolster its protection capacity.
AEC Campaign to End Exceptions
12. (C) Although the CITES decision can not be reversed, Omondi revealed that the AEC plans to meet in June 2009 in Geneva, where Kenya will submit a proposal to end any additional exceptions to the 1989 ban on ivory sales for any country. At a minimum, Kenya wants to stop China from ever trading again, after the nine-year ban on ivory trade is completed. (Note: In 2016, new countries will be able to submit proposals for a one-off sale.) Omondi strongly believes that there will never be another exception to the ban.
13. (C) In the meantime, Kenya hopes that during the nine-year ban the international community will raise funds for the African Elephant Fund (AEF) to assist the protection efforts of poor countries like Senegal, Mali, and Chad. Kenya and the AEC have already asked that China and Japan contribute to the AEF fund. Omondi said France has already awarded 50,000 euros towards this project. Although a kind gesture, Omondi feels it useless for European countries like France to give aid to Kenya to protect its wildlife but allow the same animals to be killed through their careless support of China.
14. (C) Omondi acknowledged that Kenya feels betrayed by the developed world. He described the July 2008 meeting as a "battle" between the industrial world and the developing world. Most developed countries in his view do not have the expanse of biodiversity which would engender more sensitivity to the wildlife concerns of African and Asian countries. Therefore, he finds it illogical that the European Union has the greatest representation on this issue in the CITES Standing Committee and thus can easily override the voices of African countries. Omondi confessed Kenya,s disappointment in the United States delegation, which he said did not speak throughout the entire CITES Standing Committee meeting. In Kenya,s view, the USG should have sent a resolute message opposing the one-off sale to China, rather than abstaining and mixed messages. For Omondi, American abstention meant lack of leadership. KWS will continue to collaborate with the United States on wildlife issues but will think twice before asking Washington for direction. Omondi argued that had the USG spoken in support of Kenya and the AEC it would have changed the outcome of the CITES decision. In the meantime, Kenya will continue to facilitate dialogue on elephant conservation within Africa and the world.