Despite superpowers such as the US insisting that current times are not ideal for ivory trade, the recent decision by CITES to ban any forms of ivory trading will not impact the local ivory market, the environment and tourism ministry said this week. Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe made three proposals which were rejected during the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) underway in South Africa, one of which was to allow for the sale of ivory.
The recommendation for the adoption of a Decision-Making Mechanism (DMM) for a future trade in ivory by the four SADC states was roundly rejected by parties, led by outspoken opponents Burkina Faso, Kenya, Republic of Congo and Chad. The US government has lauded Namibia’s wildlife conservation efforts this but reiterated that “this is not the right time to consider ivory trade”. Environment and Tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta, during a meeting with US director for fish and wildlife service Daniel Ashe said Namibia will pursue local ivory trade-amid strict security measures which he declined to name. Ashe said the USA is not against ivory trade “but given to what is happening we need to get that[poaching] under control before we can consider opening trade”. “We disagree with the issue of trade for now but we have a lot in common, therefore, we need to collaborate to ensure a good future for our wildlife and to ensure that community conservation continues. This will also ensure that trophy hunters come to Namibia and we must work together to tackle the poaching crisis and then have a better conversation in the future to open ivory trade,” said Ashe.
The minister said Namibia accepted the CITES outcome saying it was “a win-win situation”.
Shifeta is however adamant that there is no link between ivory trading and poaching. “There is no scientific link because criminals will do whatever they can to poach because they use illegal means to do so,” he said. He said CITES cannot interfere in Namibia’s domestic affairs when it comes to wildlife management but vowed that Namibia’s ivory market will abide by international regulations. “Our products are branded and we need to make use of them so that our people can understand the value thereof, we cannot throw it away. People do not understand that in Namibia conservation is based on our communities who sacrifice land use to cater for wildlife conservation, hence the decision[CITES] will hamper our conservation efforts,” he said.
The Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) report released recently disputed the findings of a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which finds a clear link between the legal one-off ivory sales that took place in 2008 and the current poaching crisis that has seen a third of Africa’s elephants wiped out. The MIKE claim was immediately challenged by a number of CITES member nations as well as conservation NGOs. The US delegation to last month’s CITES meeting in South Africa pointed out that the increase in poaching was fast approaching the CITES biological criteria of a decline of 50% over three generations, which requires greater protection in the form of a status uplisting for elephants under CITES recommendations. Currently, elephants in South Africa are classified under Appendix II, which provides for a possibility of a trade in ivory. An uplisting to Appendix I would provide the highest standard of protection for elephants, and would send a clear message to markets that all commercial ivory trade is prohibited. Currently, elephants in South Africa are classified under Appendix II, thereby facilitating a future one-off sale of ivory around the world.
Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa – backed by Zambia – scored a partial victory at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Johannesburg this week when they blocked attempts to upgrade elephants to an “Appendix I” listing – which bans all trade. After suffering several reversals, including a rejection of their proposal to be allowed to sell off stockpiles accrued from natural deaths and poaching seizures to fund projects in communities close to elephants, the Southern African nations used some brinkmanship to secure the big prize – keeping their elephants listed in Appendix II. At the start of the two-week conference, Namibia and Zimbabwe had also seen their proposal to keep discussions open about the possibility of a future international trade in ivory vehemently resisted. Observers believe Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa did not expect to unpick the ban on the ivory trade at this summit, but wanted to keep the debate open, in the hope of future success. The uplisting of elephants to Appendix 1, supported by some 29 African countries and surprisingly Botswana, would have meant all forms of elephant trade were banned, including trophy hunting which is the lifeblood of conservation financing in Southern Africa. Ahead of a vote on the levels of protection to be accorded to elephants on Monday, Namibia – led by Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta – raised the stakes by threatening to pull out of the Cites process entirely. “It is completely fallacious that legal ivory trade covers illegal trade,” he said.
The threat, which would have potentially seen Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and South Africa withdraw from voluntary supervision by Cites of their elephants – over a third of the world’s population – convinced some voting blocs to push back. The European Union, with 28 votes at Cites, also opposed the upgrade to Appendix 1, arguing that elephants did not meet the criteria for an Appendix 1 listing – which is reserved for animals that are in steep decline and approaching extinction. By contrast, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana – the only exceptions in the world whose elephants are currently listed in Appendix II – have seen their elephant populations remain stable or growing. Namibia said its elephant population had doubled to 20,000 in the last 15 years. Zimbabwe said its elephants were now topping 83,000 while South Africa’s elephants are holding steady at 27,000. The countries forcefully argued to be allowed to continue issuing lucrative hunting quotas, proceeds of which are used to fund conservation and development projects. South Africa’s Environment Minister, Edna Molewa, said rural communities must benefit from elephants if they are to tolerate the damage caused to crops and the lives sometimes lost. “We dare not ignore their voices,” she told the conference. “Trophy hunting is the best return on investment [in elephant protection] with the least impact.”
Charles Jonga, from the Campfire Programme, a rural development group in Zimbabwe, told the Cites summit: “The people in my community say: ‘These elephants they eat our crops, they damage our houses, what benefit do we get?’ If they get benefits, they will protect and not poach.” More than 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population, and one elephant is still being killed by poachers every 15 minutes on average. The price of ivory has soared threefold since 2009, leading conservationists to fear the survival of the species is at risk. In acrimonious debates at the conference, Southern African nations said they should not be penalised for the conservation failures of central, east and west African nations where most of the poaching occurred. And speaking after the conference, Molelwa said: “This decision is a victory for scientific, evidence-based decision-making and also a victory for African science.”
The Cites treaty, signed by 182 countries and the European Union, protects about 5,600 animals and 30,000 plant species from over-exploitation through commercial trade. International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, but legal domestic markets have continued in some countries around the world, and Cites has twice allowed sales of African ivory stockpiles to Japan and China, in 1999 and 2008. Meanwhile, Swaziland saw its proposal to sell its rhino horn stockpiles rejected by the conference. Additional reporting by Zimbabwe Consolidated News