We are extremely happy to report that elephants did well at CITES' CoP15 in Doha, Qatar. But, we are well aware that while the battle was won, the war against the ivory trade and for elephant conservation in general is an on-going one. Poverty, greed, poor governance, habitat loss and lack of law enforcement are among the many factors threatening the future of elephants and interacting with the ivory trade with devastating effect.

Our inspiration to fight on comes from the elephants themselves. We cannot win, though, if elephant range states are not willing to put a higher value on live rather than dead elephants. CITES is a convention set up to prevent the over exploitation of species by trade (though sometimes the opposite seems true); it is not meant to deal with issues of poverty, population growth or land use planning. Some countries always play the poverty card, though. While we do not buy the argument put forward over and again from southern Africa that elephants "have to pay to stay", we do recognize that we will lose elephants if local governments are not able to balance out the needs of people with those of elephants and wildlife in general.

Major achievement for elephants

As usual, elephants dominated the CITES Conference and at certain times the atmosphere was extremely tense. Requests from Tanzania and Zambia to down list their elephants populations from Appendix I to II and to begin to trade in ivory were both rejected. Tanzania and Zambia amended their proposals when they realized that they might lose the vote, but despite well orchestrated interventions by supporting parties they did not succeed in achieving the two thirds majority required. We firmly believe that down listing and "one-off" sales would have further stimulated the market for ivory, and led to more killing of elephants. They did succeed in getting another vote in the plenary session today, Thursday 25th, but the victory for elephants was upheld.

We feel that our participation was a major achievement for elephants and for ElephantVoices. While at CoP15 in Doha ElephantVoices and Save the Elephants prepared and distributed a statement to the delegates arguing that the biological criteria for down listing of Tanzania's and Zambia's elephant populations had not been met. We received an enormous response to a science-based presentation by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Sam Wasser and Joyce which countered some of the claims by the CITES Secretariat. The day before the vote more than 350 CITES participants squeezed into the meeting room with tens more having to turn around at the door for lack of space. We heard from many delegates that the presentation was an eye opener, and it is probably fair to state that it had a significant impact on what transpired later. We believe that our presentation helped influenced the EU to vote against Tanzania and to abstain in the Zambian vote which meant that they did not get the 2/3 majority required.

A magnificent team for elephants

KWS' Patrick Omondi during CoP15 intervention Our main collaborator during CoP15 was the African Elephant Coalition (AEC, with 23 African elephants range states as members), and the informal group Kenya Elephant Forum (KEF) which includes key stakeholders in Kenya (Save the Elephants, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, Youth for Conservation, ElephantVoices and others) co-ordinated by Pat Awori. During our recent trips to Kenya we were able to participate in two meetings of the KEF and were in daily email contact with them leading up to the meeting. Our African friends did a great job, and KWS assistant director Patrick Omondi presented AEC perspectives in an excellent manner. We are proud being part of this magnificent team!

Over 4,000 fans are currently following us on Facebook, and during the heated discussions and thrilling vote Monday 12th we updated our Facebook Page several times - "live from the conference hall in Doha". We got lots of responses, and many interesting comments that will be reflected in our educational outreach and work ahead. Some of you might have followed the updated list of links about the ivory trade and poaching, list to CITES information and update sources and used our searchable Document Download Center to find documents relevant to the ivory trade and CITES.

After months of focus on the ivory trade we will have to re-direct some of our energy on several important welfare issues ahead. In ALL elephant work, though, whether we are talking about wild or captive elephants, the welfare perspective is one that we never forget.

We thank all of you following and supporting us in this endeavor - and look forward to continued contact!

Our objectives for being here at CITES do not allow much time for giving comprehensive updates, nor for relaxation, for that matter. This is partly why we have given some links to other sources for CoP15 updates and related information here, and why we continue to update this page with links to media coverage about ivory trade and poaching. Take the facts and reflections in this news piece as our "one and only" proper feedback about our perspective of CITES and the CoP15 "in action". I am well aware that many of you might find the below rather technical, but in trying to reach people with different level of insight this is how it has ended up...

Friday (yesterday) was a day off in terms of the official program, and gave us a chance to catch up with important e-mails and preparations for the days and activities to come. In the evening we participated in a strategy meeting and dinner with the Afrian Elephant Coalition (AEC). A few hours ago we went to the Official Delegates' Dinner hosted by Qatar's Ministry of Environment, but raced back to our hotel for some more time on the computer after a quick meal and a couple of important conversations.

Improved CITES work processes strongly needed

It's a fact that enormous effort and money go into lobbying CITES delegates. This mean that politics, horse-trading and "friendly favors" among nations sometimes overtake CITES mandate of "ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival." Admittedly, I don't have a good gut feeling based on how CoP15 voted against increased protection for the polar bear and the blue fin tuna.

CITES member states rely heavily on the Panel of Experts (PoE), selected by the Secretariat. Their reports on Tanzania's and Zambia's proposals for sale and downlisting (available here) were distributed, without peer review, only a few days before CoP15. They contain conclusions that we disagree with and some core facts that are wrong. We honor the hard work of the Panel, but we feel that elephants deserve a more open and less rushed process. Handing out such crucial documents a couple of days before the meeting takes place is simply unacceptable.

We have contested the Secretariat's conclusion that Zambia's and Tanzania's populations do not meet the biological criteria to remain on Appendix I in Statement from Save The Elephants & ElephantVoices regarding Tanzania's and Zambia's proposal distributed to CoP15 delegates on 18 March. The opinion piece in Science 12 March, Elephants, Ivory, and Trade, highlights the need for engagement of the wider scientific community in CITES decisions regarding the future of elephants.

We have spent most of today working hard to prepare a presentation that Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Sam Wasser and Joyce will give at CoP15 tomorrow, Sunday. It pinpoint some hard facts and figures about the ivory trade and Tanzania's and Zambia's evident role in it while also describing the long-term consequences of poaching on elephant populations. The presentation will, furthermore, document what we view as a clear relationship between CITES elephant petitions, one-off sales and illegal trade and poaching. We argue that it would be irresponsible to break the spirit of the nine year moratiorium or "resting period" on trade that was decided at CoP14.

The "bigger picture" - and welfare for the individual elephant

Qatar is one of the sunniest places on earth, but we have hardly been outside. From our hotel windows we can see huge buildings shooting up all around - what probably is the richest country in the world, considering their oil and gas reserves, is a quickly growing financial powerhouse. It admittedly feels kind of strange to discuss conservation and wildlife surrounded by overwhelming signs of trade, luxury and (over)consumption.

While CITES mainly is about the "bigger picture" and trends, we shouldn't forget the welfare of individuals. During the last couple of days we have been through slides showing numerous ivory seizures, with three huge ones from 2009 representing 17,000 dead elephants. We have seen photos from markets or shops in Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Mozambique and Egypt exhibiting ivory equal to hundreds of elephants. During the presentation tomorrow gruesome photos of elephants whose genitals have been cut off will be shown for the first time. We cannot even imagine the trauma for families whose members are amongst the 30,000+ elephants that are estimated to be killed each year.

The fight against the ivory trade is in any case not over

It is late Saturday evening - during Monday we most likely will know if CITES will follow the Precautionary Principle and give elephants a much needed benefit of the doubt. Even with a positive decision the struggle is far from over, better law enforcement is another vital factor in this trade. The world society and African governments will have to put a lot of effort into closing down ivory suppliers and outlets, while authorities in China, Japan and Thailand must control and close down smuggling routes and illegal carving facilities. To change attitudes among willing buyers in the market place, educating people that ivory means dead elephants, is just one of many challenges we face.

We hope to bring you good news on Monday - but don't want to raise any expectations what so ever.

Petter, in Doha

Section of GB family in Amboseli wait for their one-tusked matriarch, Grace, to catch up. (©ElephantVoices)

CITES -  CoP15 logoWe have uploaded a page with a few links to sources of information and updates from the ongoing CITES - CoP15 - in Doha, Qatar, 13 to 25 March. We will from Wednesday give you some updates ourselves - when time and connection permits.

Ivory poaching is heavily impacting many elephant populations, killing off older individuals with larger tusks and fragmenting families and leaving youngsters orphaned. We must act before it is too late. The increasing demand for ivory in Asia combined with corruption, poor governance and poverty in many range states is resulting in the killing tens of elephants each day.

We believe that a total ban on trade in elephant tusks is necessary and that further legal sale will fuel both the demand and supply. You will find several new links related to poaching and the ivory trade here, including some to online petitions. Please use your social networks off- and online to influence the decision at the upcoming CITES meeting which will take place during the second half of March.

Let your voice be heard!