Botswana praised for dramatic switch to protect elephants

The nation’s U-turn has intensified pressure on the global community to act now to protect elephants, before it’s too late

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Conservationists around the world have praised Botswana’s dramatic switch to support a total ban on ivory trading.

The move was announced by Tshekedi Khama, Botswana’s Minister of Environment, at a global wildlife conference in Johannesburg.  It puts Botswana at odds with its southern African neighbours, including Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, who have strongly lobbied for limited legal ivory sales to support management of elephant herds.

Addressing representatives of 183 government bodies during a heated debate at the CITES conference, Khama said: “Poaching is so intense that in 10 years’ time we could lose 50 per cent of Africa’s remaining elephants, and in countries with small isolated elephant populations, it is likely they will be completely extirpated.

“Although Botswana has previously supported the limited, legal ivory sales from countries that manage their elephant herds sustainably, we now recognise that we can no longer support these sales, and we cannot deal with this issue in a vacuum.”

Khama went on to argue unreservedly for an up-listing of all African elephants to CITES Appendix 1, a classification which would give the animals the highest possible level of protection by banning international ivory sales.

Dr Max Graham, founder and CEO of charity Space for Giants, says: “We should all salute Botswana’s bravery and support them in their hour of need. This is a game changer. Botswana is boldly breaking away from the conventional southern African pro-ivory trade position, because the pervasive and corrupting criminality of the illegal ivory trade has given it no other option.”

With over 130,000 wild elephants, Botswana is home to the world’s largest population of pachyderms. The nation’s U-turn to support a coalition of 30 African nations fighting to protect elephants undoubtedly strengthened the pressure on the global community at CITES. However, following the EU’s vote against up-listing elephants the animal’s status remains unchanged.

Amid soaring levels of elephant slaughter, Botswana joined Space for Giants’ initiative The Giants Club in 2015. Along with Kenya, Gabon and Uganda, the nation pledged commitment to saving Africa’s elephant populations from extinction in the wild.

Botswana’s President, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, has long been at the forefront of conservation. He is Patron of The Tlhokomela Trust, a private-public partnership that was established to protect Botswana’s wildlife by developing anti-poaching units and implementing programmes to ensure human-wildlife coexistence in areas where elephants roam.

In the summer of 2016 Botswana also published the much-anticipated first ever continental-scale survey of elephants, called The Great Elephant Census, which now serves as a baseline for future elephant surveys.

For more information Space for Giants visit www.spaceforgiants.org

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