Africa divided over ivory trade

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia hope to gather more support for their plan to lobby CITES to overturn the ban on legal sales of ivory

By Farayi Machamire for Zim Morning Post

Southern African states have thrown their weight behind a fresh bid to lift restrictions on the sale of ivory, vowing to use the proceeds to fund conservation.

At the same time, some African elephant range states and NGOs have pushed back against the proposal of legalising the ivory trade or authorising a one-off sale saying this could trigger poaching.

The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, known as CITES, currently prohibits unregulated commercial trade in endangered species around the world, including ivory.

Speaking at the Elephant Conference in Hwange town in northwestern Zimbabwe on May 23, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Mangaliso Ndhlovu, said his country and other elephant range States are facing social and political pressures from citizens questioning why elephants are prioritised over their own lives and livelihoods, and the matter needs urgent resolution as it now at boiling point.

“It is vital to the State that we have enormous weight and expectations from our people on elephants and any decision outcomes from the CITES agenda,” Ndhlovu said. “We are gathered here because we are concerned and want to put a well clarified position to CITES through the agenda items,” he added.

Zimbabwe insists ivory sale proceeds will be devoted to benefiting local people in wildlife areas as this gives the local communities a reason to support the fight against poaching rather than having to rely on it for their livelihoods.

Zambia, which says it has over 74 tonnes of ivory in its custody which it cannot trade due to the CITES ban, threw its weight behind the lifting of restriction on the sale of ivory.

“Forty-two percent of the stockpile is from Problem Animal Control and natural elephant mortality. The stockpile increases by over 8% annually and the increased tonnage poses a security risk. Zambia seeks to sell its ivory stockpile to raise funds for conservation,” said Andrew Chomba Eldred, Zambia’s Acting Director at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.

“Zambia’s elephant was listed in Appendix I at CoP7 in 1989, because of the declining population, estimated at 18,000. Elephant population has increased but efforts and proposals to down-list back to Appendix II have failed,” he added.

Namibia said it is in possession of 85 tonnes of ivory, adding that CITES-related decisions had “eroded the ability to generate funding for elephant conservation and management.”

“Losses to Namibia from CITES decisions – just ivory from natural mortalities – exceed the total value of Human Elephant Conflict costs and agricultural production on communal lands in elephant range,” said a Namibian representative.

“Conservancies are not able to generate enough funding from only hunting or tourism to meaningfully offset negative impacts of elephants.”

Botswana Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Kabelo Senyatso, kept the tonnage of that country’s stockpile a closely guarded secret but maintained Botswana would back the fresh bid to revive ivory trade.

South African representative, Dr Sam Ferreira, large mammal ecologist of South African National Parks, acknowledged that South Africa also carries costs in managing their stockpiles.

Human elephant conflicts, however, are far less than in most southern African nations. South Africa does not yet have a position on legal ivory sales as they are currently undergoing policy reviews but attended the conference in solidarity with the southern African region.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and 49 other conservation organisations within several elephant range and non-range states, on May 24 released a joint statement condemning the move and urging the international community and policymakers to resist it.

“Global appetite for legal ivory trade is at an historic low. At the last CITES CoP in 2019 (CoP18), efforts to restart trade and lower the protection of elephants by Southern African countries were once again vetoed by most Parties, including the vast majority of African elephant range states,” the grouping said in a statement.

“Attempts to restart legal trade would provide organised crime networks with further opportunities to poach and launder trafficked ivory into the legal market. As a result, law enforcement efforts to clamp down on illegal trade would be further undermined.”

Daniel Stiles, illegal wildlife trade investigator, specialising in market studies of endangered live wildlife and their derivative products, said the Elephant Conference was a noble initiative as, apart from the ivory trade question, it also sought to find viable ways for statistical sharing among elephant range states.

However, he added, “Zimbabwe’s hope for a display of African unity did not work out” as invited States who are in opposition to Zimbabwe’s position, such as Kenya, did not attend the conference.

Zimbabwe, though, is not backing down with Environment Minister Ndhlovu insisting “in the last year, I have spent time engaging counterparts in many African countries with elephants.”

“I have equally engaged local communities, diplomats, development partners, and private sector players issues of trade and conservation….In the agenda setting of CITES COPs, the proposals made for listing African elephants into Appendix 1, is influenced by voices of non-range states, which is not scientifically proven.

“This means countries that successfully manage elephant populations are collectively punished for the efforts they make.” Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia are home to over 60% of the continent’s elephants.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Programme, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organisation Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here.

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