The regulator of global wildlife trade decided Tuesday to impose a near-total ban on sending African elephants captured from the wild to zoos.
Following a heated debate at a meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva, the member countries approved a proposed text after a revision by the European Union included some exceptions to the ban.
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 motion passed with 87 votes in favor, 29 against and 25 abstaining.
“This is a momentous CITES decision for Africa’s elephants,” said Audrey Delsink, the wildlife director at Humane Society International (HSI)’s Africa division.
Zimbabwe and Botswana fought against the measure. Botswana is the main provider of wild African elephants to zoos outside of the continent and tried in vain to block the vote.
Tuesday’s decision only impacts African elephants. Asian elephants already enjoy more protection against international trade.