The group that regulates the global trade of wildlife has approved a nearly complete ban on the capture and transfer of wild African elephants to zoos, despite strong opposition from the United States and some African countries.
Member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva approved the near total ban Tuesday after heated debate.
A version of the ban that was slightly weakened by the European Union was approved after it was cleared by a required two-thirds majority vote.
The ban prohibits the transfer of all captured wild African elephants to so-called captive facilities, such zoos, circuses and other entertainment venues. The ban restricts the trade of elephants caught in the wild from Zimbabwe and Botswana to off-site conservation locations or secure areas in their natural habitats.
The EU amendments included a loophole that allows the transfer of the elephants in "exceptional circumstances" and "in emergency situations" that require consultation with the CITES Animals Committee and the elephant specialist group the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The amendment also states that wild caught elephants already in zoos could be transferred to other facilities outside of Africa.
The U.S. opposed the original and the revised proposals.
Zimbabwe, which has captured and exported more than 100 baby elephants to Chinese zoos in the last seven years according to the Humane Society International, also opposed the decision.
Humane Society International/Africa director Audrey Delsink praised the vote as "momentous" despite the EU's "compromised language."
"Public sentiment is shifting, and people are increasingly outraged at the senseless and cruel practice of snatching baby elephants from the wild to live a life as a zoo exhibit," Delsink added.
CITES previously banned the trade of elephants in western, central and eastern Africa, citing the need for protection. Some trade, however, has been allowed in southern Africa, where elephant populations are healthier.