Animal activists and elephant lovers are celebrating a near-total ban on the trade of baby elephants born in the wild.

In a landslide vote held in Geneva, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) have decided to tightened their rules.

In spite of initial reluctance by EU countries to back the vote, the motion passed by 87 votes to 29.

Only two countries failed to join the ban.

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Zimbabwe, the world's main exporter of elephants did not back the ban. The other country to keep elephant trade open was the United States.

Zimbabwe and other African countries with elephant populations were not entirely happy with the ruling, saying the trade denied them of the resources required to run conservation areas and parks.

The president of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa said he was considering quitting Cites over the ruling. Mnangagwa said his country was overcrowded by elephants, with a population of 84000 in an area that should hold only 54000.

The president said that a relaxing international laws on ivory and elephant trade would help ease the economic woes of his country, which has been rocked by currency crises.

He criticised the body saying it was dominated by countries "like Europeans … who have exhausted their wildlife resources . . .but they want to set rules for us."

In a compromise both Zimbabwe and Botswana were given a quota for elephant trade to an agreed list of "appropriate and acceptable" destinations.

The United States failed to back the vote when it was put to them for a second time.

The US captive elephant population are in decline. There are 305 elephants held at 62 AZA (US Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoos. 76 elephants have died in captivity since 2000, with breeding programmes extremely difficult to manage in captive environments.

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US zoos and elephant herd owners have argued that the option to import calves is vital for the health of captive populations. However, this decision not to suppot the ban has been met with condemnation by US animal rights campaigners.

"By voting against this proposal, the United States is disregarding the growing public opposition to this cruel practice, which harms elephant welfare and fails to promote elephant conservation," wrote in a Johanna Hamburger of the US Animal Welfare Institute who attended the Cites vote.

The EU initially opposed the band due concerns over the health of gene pools and genetic variation in zoos around the world.

After weeks of negotiations and celebrity endorsements the EU countries backed the vote in exchange for additional allowances that would account for "exceptional circumstances".
Will Travers, President of the Born Free Foundation, was ecstatic about the result. Taking to twitter minutes after its passing, he had to offer "huge congratulations to African elephant ranger states that supported it."

"It doesn't mean that no elephant will ever be taken from the wild and put into a captive facility overseas, but it's going to tighten it up so much. That mass shipments of elephants to zoos in the Far East, for example, simply won't happen," he said.

Humane Society International said it was "celebrating a momentous win".

Audrey Delsink, the group's Africa wildlife director said the cause was something the Humane Society and she had backed from the beginning.

"Speaking personally as an elephant field biologist, I am jubilant that we have secured this victory for all the elephants who will now be spared the ordeal of being ripped away from their families."

Cassandra Koenen, Global Head of 'Wildlife not Pets' at World Animal Protection said:

"This is a landmark decision that will the change the lives of many baby elephants. We applaud all the nations at CITES that made the decision to protect elephants."

Last week a list of celebrities including Joanna Lumley, Brigitte Bardot, Judi Dench and Ricky Gervais signed an open letter criticising the US and European countries for not supporting the ban.