The lust for Ivory on the international ivory market continues to pose a threat to Namibia’s elephant population, the challenge now is whether to sell its stockpiles or destroy it.
Namibia’s elephant population currently stands at more than 22 000.
Although there are fears among anti-poaching agencies across the globe that the sale of ivory by governments might promote ivory sales, government has advanced plans to sell some of its stockpiles that was acquired “legally”.
The international trade in ivory has been banned in most of the world since 1989 following a drop in the population of African elephants from millions in the mid-20th century to just 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.
Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta said part of the stockpile is made up of ivory acquired from elephants that died to natural causes or trouble elephants that were tormenting communities or those killed during trophy hunting.
Organised crime syndicates have become increasingly involved in the trade, eager to reap the benefits as demand in Asia for ivory soars to use in decorations and traditional medicines driving a multi-billion- dollar market.
Shifeta however stated that Namibia “will not burn its ivory”.
“We respect other countries’ policies but it is not our policy. Our policy is not to burn ivory, or to elephant tusks. We intend to sell the legal ones,” he said.
Namibia has already submitted a proposal for new measures and policies on the trade of ivory, for consideration at a global wildlife conference to be held in South Africa later this year.
Official figures indicate that Namibia’s ivory stockpile is growing on average by 4.5% annually.
The country made a submission to be granted permission to sell ivory.
“Not the ones that we confiscated. That is why there is a certain way in the storage system that they are separated, and there is a management system where there is a separation between the legal and the illegal ones. They are kept in a different vantage system, said the minister.
Strict national legislation makes it obligatory for the public to hand in any ivory found, he said.
Incidents of illegal hunting of elephants in Namibia include cases of illegal shooting before or after elephants have damaged or have threatened to damage crops and farms, and where no attempt is made to collect the ivory.
Asked whether the selling of legal ones would not promote poaching, Shifeta says it will not and there is no way it will influence them to sell because they have already been selling illegally. “They sell it illegally and they are poaching illegally.” Shifeta said.
According to Shifeta, illegal horns are sold in a different market, adding that: “There is no relationship when it comes to government selling ivory and that sold on the black market.”
Shifeta also stressed his displeasure with the country’s legal system, saying repeated poaching offenders continues to be granted bail
“I can assure you that even if we arrest them this week, the same poachers will be arrested after a few weeks again,” said a worried Shifeta who said the practice continues despite government’s use of advanced technologies to curb poaching in the country.
Shifeta said the poaching syndicates in the country are very organized, involving senior government officials such as school principals.
“Some of them are officials working in different organizations, there are leaders of the organisations and those sent to go and poach.”
It is a matter of making sure that the prosecution is objected heavily especially when it comes to the granting of bail,” he said.