Wildlife Conservation Efforts

India’s abstains in CITES vote on reopening Ivory Trade


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CITES, its appendices

Mains level : Not Much

India’s decision not to vote against a proposal to re-open the international trade in ivory at the ongoing conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

What is CITES?

  • CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
  • It is as an international agreement aimed at ensuring “that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival”.
  • It was drafted after a resolution was adopted at a meeting of the members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1963.
  • It entered into force on July 1, 1975, and now has 183 parties.
  • The Convention is legally binding on the Parties in the sense that they are committed to implementing it; however, it does not take the place of national laws.
  • India is a signatory to and has also ratified CITES convention in 1976.

CITES Appendices

  • CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls.
  • All import, export, re-exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the convention has to be authorized through a licensing system.

It has three appendices:

  • Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade-in specimens of these species are permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
  • Appendix II provides a lower level of protection.
  • Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade.

What is the news?

  • India remained absent during the CITES conference aimed to re-open the international trade in ivory.

Why such move by India?

  • Elephant remains one of India’s most powerful cultural and religious symbols.
  • A pioneer in banning even the domestic trade in ivory in 1986, India has always been at the forefront of global elephant conservation initiatives.

What is the tussle over Ivory?

  • The international ivory trade was globally banned in 1989 when all African elephant populations were put in CITES Appendix I.
  • However, the populations of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe were transferred to Appendix II in 1997, and South Africa’s in 2000 to allow two “one-off sales”.
  • This is because ivory stockpiled from natural elephant deaths and seizures from poachers.
  • Subsequently, Namibia’s proposal for allowing a regular form of controlled trade in ivory by delisting the elephant populations of the four countries from Appendix II was rejected at CoP17 (2016) and CoP18 (2019).
  • At the ongoing CoP19, the proposal was moved by Zimbabwe but met the same fate.
  • These are low income countries often battling to generate some revenue from Ivory trade.

India and ivory trade

  • The endangered Asian elephant was included in CITES Appendix I in 1975, which banned the export of ivory from the Asian range countries.
  • In 1986, India amended The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to ban even domestic sales of ivory.
  • After the ivory trade was globally banned, India again amended the law to ban the import of African ivory in 1991.
  • In 1981 when New Delhi hosted COP3, India designed the iconic CITES logo in the form of an elephant.
  • Over the years, India’s stand has been unequivocal on the ivory issue.

What has changed now?

  • After protracted negotiation, India signed an agreement in July with Namibia to fly in cheetahs.
  • India has agreed to promote “sustainable utilisation and management of biodiversity” by supporting advances in this area of bilateral cooperation “at international forums including meetings of” CITES.
  • While the word “ivory” was not mentioned, Namibia sought India’s support under this agreement.


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