A host of stars are calling on EU leaders at CITES wildlife conference not to overturn ban on trade in wild-caught baby African elephants for zoos and circuses.

Ricky Gervais, Simon Pegg, Leona Lewis, Dame Judi Dench, Alesha Dixon, Evanna Lynch, Bryan Adams, Virginia McKenna OBE, Thandie Newton, Pamela Anderson, Peter Egan, and Jenny Seagrove are among a host of compassionate personalities who have joined forces with animal protection and conservation groups including Humane Society International, Brigitte Bardot Foundation, The Born Free Foundation, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, World Animal Protection and the Species Survival Network, in signing an urgent Open Letter to EU officials calling on them to support, not oppose, a ban on trade in wild-caught baby African elephants, ripped from their families and shipped off to foreign zoos.

The ban was first voted on and approved earlier this week by a majority of countries attending the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) in Geneva, but the EU voting bloc of 28 is expected to attempt to overturn it at the plenary vote next week.

The full letter and list of celebrity signers and the organizations can be read here.

Forty-six countries attending CITES voted to end the highly-controversial trade in wild-caught African elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to captive facilities such as zoos in China and elsewhere. This represents an historic, landmark decision for elephants, who are social and emotional creatures and can suffer physically and psychologically in captivity. However, there is concern that the vote could be reopened at next week’s plenary meeting on August 27th and 28th and that the ban will be opposed by the European Union.

The ‘ban’ was passed by the required 2/3 majority vote in Committee I of CITES largely because the EU was unable to vote due to a procedural issue (it had not yet filed its credentials). The European Union – which spoke against the ban before the vote, and now has its credentials in order – looks set to vote against. As a 28-country voting bloc, the European Union’s vote is substantial and could overturn the decision if it opposes the ban. In that case, elephant families would continue to be ripped apart, and baby elephants condemned to a lifetime of suffering in captivity.

The letter reads: "Elephants are social and emotional creatures who form strong family bonds and suffer tremendously in captivity. Captured elephants can face horrific abuse during the capture process. Footage of wild-caught baby elephants awaiting export from Zimbabwe shows calves being beaten and kicked during capture. Some elephants have died during transit or shortly after arrival. Elephants who survive the long journey into captivity have been observed living in dark, barren cells in the holding facilities and zoos, in stark and heart-breaking contrast to the vast wilderness in which they naturally roam with family groups and larger clans.

“We call on all EU Environment ministers and the Finnish Presidency, representing the EU as a 28 voting bloc at the CITES meeting, to reflect the position of the majority of African elephant range States, the great majority of EU citizens, and leading elephant experts, and support the proposal to end the export of wild-caught elephants for captive use.”

Speaking from the CITES meeting, Audrey Delsink, Humane Society International/Africa Wildlife Director and elephant biologist, said: “Elephants are highly sentient and social beings, and the loss of captured individuals causes sustained psychological trauma for both the captured elephant and the remaining family. Public opinion is shifting and people throughout the world are appalled by the capture of baby elephants from the wild for export to zoos. The EU must not turn its back on elephants.”

Will Travers OBE, President of the Born Free Foundation said: “The public are increasingly distressed at the plight of elephants in captivity and sanctuaries in the US, Brazil, Europe and elsewhere are now doing their best to care for numerous elephants that are being increasingly shed by traditional captive facilities in the West. If the EU scuppers this progressive and positive CITES measure next week it will demonstrate just how massively out of step EU leaders are with the compassionate views of its citizens.”

“France is supportive of this measure but most of the EU countries oppose the proposal although it would be an historic step forward for the conservation of the African elephant” says Elodie Gérôme-Delgado, Programme Leader Wildlife Worldwide at the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. “We’re urging EU Member States to follow France’s lead as they have a unique chance today to put an end to a cruel and useless practice.”

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of Wildlife not Pets at World Animal Protection said: “We urge the EU to protect these majestic animals. The world has been shocked to see distressing video and photos of terrified baby African elephants being rounded up and snatched from their families in the wild, to be shipped to zoos and circuses around the world. Elephants have suffered enough, and the absolute last thing we should subject them to is long, stressful transportation across the world, and unsuitable new homes in the name of entertainment.”

“This historic step could turn the tide on the brutal and torturous reality of the live trade in elephants. Elephants are sentient beings that belong in the wild, they are not a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder. The sooner we put the emotional wellbeing of the species before our own short-sighted financial gain, the sooner we will regain a small slice of our humanity,” said Karen Botha, Chief Executive of David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

If the ban is not passed next week, African elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana will continue to be allowed to capture and export live elephants to so-called “appropriate and acceptable” destinations based on the annotation to the Appendix II listing of their elephant populations. Under these conditions, Zimbabwe has captured more than 100 live baby African elephants in the wild and exported them to zoos in China since 2012.

If the EU supports the ban and it is voted through, such international trade in wild African elephant exported from Zimbabwe and Botswana will be limited to only “in situ conservation programmes or secure areas in the wild within the species’ natural range, except in the case of temporary transfers in emergency situations”.

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