CITES News: Rhinos saved from disastrous Swaziland proposal to legalise horn trade on same day African elephants lose out on CITES Appendix I protection

Humane Society International

  • Southern white rhinoceros. Bob Koons

Humane Society International’s wildlife experts are rejoicing as CITES Parties today defeated a proposal by Swaziland to sell existing stocks of rhinoceros horn and horn harvested from the 74 living rhinos in the country to licensed retailers in Asia. The rhino news comes hot on the heels of a devastatingly disappointing decision early today by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to reject the up-listing of all African elephants to Appendix I despite a clear conservation need.

On Rhinos: Adam Peyman, wildlife program manager for Humane Society International, issued the following statement from Johannesburg, South Africa:

“The world has done the right thing by rejecting the proposal to allow international trade in rhino horn between Swaziland and “licensed retailers in Asia”. This proposal could have  reversed years of progress to reduce demand, crack down on rhino horn trafficking and protect rhinos in their natural environment. The world has reiterated its commitment to protecting rhinos by confirming that rhino horn is only valuable on a living rhino’s head.”

On elephants: Iris Ho, of Humane Society International, issued the following statement:

“African elephants are dying by the day for a commercial trade in their ivory that has surely set them on a path to extinction unless the global community took the opportunity to act quickly and decisively to stamp that trade out. CITES Parties had such an opportunity today by giving this imperilled species the highest possible Appendix I listing, but they failed to do so. This is an appalling global oversight that fails not only the African elephant, as well as the range States demanding Appendix I protection for them, but also millions of elephant supporters worldwide who invested huge hope in CITES to give elephants the help they desperately need. Our only hope now is that the plenary session later this week will reverse this disastrous decision. Today’s failure to protect African elephant populations, hands victory to ivory trade profiteers. It is shocking that CITES has stood in the way of greater protection for this species when the world can see how urgently the need is to preserve them. If left unchanged, it is a stain on CITES’s conservation legacy. We are especially disappointed in the United States’ and China’s opposition which undermines their strong support for closure of domestic ivory markets and is a slap in the face to the nearly 30 African elephant range states who demanded this protection for their elephants.”

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  • International commercial trade in rhino horn is prohibited under CITES, and domestic trade is prohibited in the key countries that have been identified as the major markets. The creation of a legal trade would legitimise rhino horn in the eyes of current and potential consumers, and risked bringing many new consumers to the market, increasing demand.
  • Groups like HSI have made significant strides in reducing the demand of rhino horn in key markets through public education initiatives. 
  • All five rhino species are threatened with extinction. In 2015, more than 1,300 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, out of a remaining 28,000 left in the wild.


  • Results released by The Great Elephant Census last month found savanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent (equal to 144,000 elephants) between 2007 and 2014.The current rate of decline is 8 percent per year, primarily due to poaching. The rate of decline accelerated from 2007 to 2014. 352,271 elephants were counted in the 18 countries surveyed. This figure represents at least 93 percent of savanna elephants in these countries.
  • From 2010 to 2012, poachers killed 100,000 elephants for their ivory. In Central Africa, between 2002 and 2013, 65 percent of the forest elephants were killed.
  • The Appendix I proposal put forward by the African Elephant Coalition consisted of 29 countries, representing 70 percent of the elephant range states.


Proposal 16: Proponents: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Uganda. This proposal was endorsed by the African Elephant Coalition. Currently, the African elephant is “split-listed” under CITES with most populations on CITES Appendix I—the highest level of CITES protection—and the populations of four countries on Appendix II. Proposal 16 sought to ensure that CITES accurately reflects the alarming continent-wide decline of the African elephant population by removing the current split-listing and transferring populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Appendix II to Appendix I.