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Conservationists and former senior African politicians are calling on the European Union to drop “colonial” attitudes and vote to save elephants from extinction

The number of elephants in Africa is half what it is estimated to have been 40 years ago. Wildlife habitat continues to shrink. Nairobi National Park, for example, is becoming an island as migratory corridors between the dry-season waterholes and wet-season grazing areas are slowly choked off by small farmers and upscale houses.

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Conservationists and former senior African politicians are calling on the European Union to drop “colonial” attitudes and vote to save elephants from extinction. If EU chiefs back conservation steps at a meeting next month, it would represent a U-turn from their historical voting patterns.

An open letter was sent to President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker, and his successor – Ursula Von Der Leyen, it mentions that : “elephants have never been treated as commodities for commercial gain in most of Africa.

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This is an imported Western concept based on anthropocentric values. Since this continent was first colonized, elephants have been reduced from being valued intrinsically to being instrumentally valued as mere commodities to be traded and killed for human gratification. In colonial days, the desire for ivory nearly wiped them out.”

“This is a construct that still weighs heavily on Africa today even though Africa is no longer physically shackled by colonialism.

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“There are still colonial ideological remnants when elephants are still regarded from an instrumental or market-valued perspective.”

The letter says the mammals are still hunted or slaughtered, or babies are snatched from their mothers to be exported as trophies, ivory ornaments or live specimens.

Currently, only some animals are afforded the highest level of protection – something the proposal seeks to extend to other members of the species.

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“Thirty-two African nations have issued a suite of proposals at the next CITES Conference of the Parties in Geneva, Switzerland. They are calling for an end to the trade in elephants and their body parts. They are hopeful of keeping alive their great heritage.

But they require the support of the European Union to do so. In the past this has not been the case. Europe, with its great influence on the global stage, has continued to back the trade in elephants at CITES and each time they do, our elephant populations decline a little further,” the letter, signed by H.E Dr A A Moody Awori EGH OBS, former Vice President, Kenya, Hon. Azizou El Hadj Issa, former Minister of Agriculture, Benin Nomusa Dube, Founder of the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation, Zimbabwe, Adam Cruise, Editor of the African Elephant Journal, South Africa.

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If passed, the motion will protect elephants in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from the global ivory trade. The four countries want the ivory trade rules relaxed. Zambia, meanwhile, wants the status of its elephants downgraded to allow its ivory to be legally sold.

“A small minority of African nations still subscribe to the views of those who have no elephants. These nations are pushing to open an international trade in ivory by selling off their huge ivory stockpiles – an action that has twice been allowed thanks to European support. Some of these nations also capture wild elephants to sell to zoos in China, Europe and the United States and it is not their people who benefit from the proceeds.”

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““Contrary to the prevailing western views of wildlife management that elephants are destroying natural habitats, we Africans instead view their role as the great gardeners and architects of our natural environment.”, the writers add.

The EU has also launched numerous initiatives against international ivory trafficking. It is the main donor supporting African countries and international law-enforcement agencies to step up their efforts against these criminal activities.

Furthermore, the Commission has provided €2.25 million to help developing countries implement CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but declined when asked by The Independent to respond to the claims of “colonialism” from those who signed the letter. Via CITES, the EU has been pressing for the adoption of targeted recommendations, including trade sanctions, against countries involved as source, transit or final destination for ivory trafficking.

Wild Elephants with relaxing music

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