Countries that are part of an international agreement on trade in endangered species have agreed to limit the sale of wild elephants caught in Zimbabwe and Botswana, delighting conservationists but dismaying some of the African countries involved.
Wildlife experts said a resolution approved by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday was a "momentous win" for elephants because it restricts their sale to zoos.
The European Union tweaked the language of the resolution to reach a compromise that limits exports of live elephants outside of Africa but allows for some exceptions relevant to Europe.
Conservationists explained the change by giving an example, saying it would allow for an elephant already in France to be shipped to nearby Germany without having to be sent back to Africa first.
But the new resolution also means zoos will no longer be able to import wild-caught African elephants to the United States, China and many other countries beyond the elephants' natural habitat. The resolution passed by a vote of 87 in favor, 29 against and 25 abstaining. The U.S. voted against it.
Animal advocates applauded the move, even though some felt it didn't go far enough.
Botswana and Zimbabwe have the world's largest populations of African elephants, for a combined total of about 200,000.
Some African officials said the new proposal would deny them some much-needed cash and that they should be free to do what they wished with their elephants.
Daniel J. Schubert, wildlife biologist of the Animal Welfare Institute, said: "The majority of the parties to CITES decided that African elephants belong in Africa. Yes, there are still some caveats, but ... the bottom line is, the days of ... routine export of African elephants to the highest bidder or to a zoo in the United States or to the EU, and so on and so forth - those days are over."
However, Munesushe Munodawafa, Permanent Secretary in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality, said: "We have 30,000 more elephants than our ecology can sustain. And the effect of this is that we now have to carry that burden, and we have to carry the cost, which nobody else in the world is sharing with us."