EU approves proposal limiting export of elephants from Africa

EU approves proposal limiting export of elephants from Africa
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The European Union on Tuesday voted to approve a proposal limiting the export of wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The measure, introduced at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) earlier this month, was amended to include a compromise for "exceptional circumstances" after negotiations between the EU and the African Elephant Coalition (AEC).

The proposal allows for some exceptions relevant to Europe, including allowing an elephant already in an EU country to be shipped to a nearby EU nation without having to be sent back to Africa first.

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The new resolutions, passed by a vote of 87 in favor, 29 opposed and 25 abstaining, means zoos will not be able to import wild-caught African elephants to the U.S., China and a number of other countries beyond elephants' natural habitat.

Elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana were designated under CITES Appendix II, which limited their export, but included an exception for moving them to “appropriate and acceptable” destinations, which allowed the animals to be sent to zoos across the world.

CITES on Tuesday also agreed to list mako sharks on Appendix II, which advocates say will encourage better management measures by regional fisheries management groups.

The EU initially had voiced opposition to a proposal that would end elephant exports from the two countries. Zimbabwe and Botswana were the last two African nations where the practice was legal. 

But the voting bloc changed its position after intense public lobbying and overwhelming interest from celebrities like Pamela Anderson, Brigitte Bardot and Ricky Gervais, who sent a letter to the EU urging it to change its position and accept the AEC proposal.

"This is a momentous CITES decision for Africa's elephants and despite compromised language being introduced by the EU, we are relieved by its passing," Audrey Delsink, wildlife director at Humane Society International, said in a statement to The Hill.

"While it is disappointing that it is not an outright ban on trade in live elephants, the new language adds vital independent oversight and scrutiny."

The new resolution was lauded by animal rights activists and conservation groups. Some groups, however, said they felt the proposal didn't go far enough in increasing protections for elephants, while some African officials said the proposal would deny the countries much-needed income.