Southern African states threaten to quit CITES over restrictions on the ivory trade

Four southern African nations are threatening to withdraw from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species after their attempts to relax restrictions on the ivory trade were rejected.

Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe are home to the world’s largest African elephant population and have put forward a motion for the right to sell ivory acquired through natural deaths, confiscations and culling under certain conditions. Zambia, on its part, has proposed being allowed to sell its raw ivory and permit trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes. These proposals were all voted down during the 18th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) , which took place in Geneva between 17 and 28 August. Poaching increased very steeply across Africa after the last Ivory stockpile  sales back in 2008.

An African Elephant drinks water from a pool in Krugar National Park in Lower Sabie, South Africa © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The CITES treaty, created over four decades ago, regulates global trade in some 36,000 species of plants and animals, and provides mechanisms to help crack down on the illegal trade and sanction countries that violate the rules.

Elephant ivory ban infuriating African leaders

Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa lambasted wildlife regulator’s decision to not relax ivory laws. According to the leader, the estimated combined value of ivory in his country and neighbouring Botswana and Namibia is worthy 600 million US dollars, “Its a lot of money we can use for big projects in our region, but we can’t sell because countries without elephants are telling those with them what to do with their animals” he specified.

“They bar us from killing our animals for selling ivory, but they want us to protect them from being poached,” Mnangagwa wondered. He accused the wildlife monitoring body of turning a blind eye to Africa’s problems.

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An African Elephant stands in the evening light in the Samburu Reserve, Kenya © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

But his predecessor Ian Khama, an enthusiastic conservationist who in 2014 became the only Southern African leader to introduce a complete ban on elephant trophy hunting, has called the decision catastrophic, an archaic practice and that the proposal would harm the tourism industry second largest source of revenue.

Elephants must pay for their upkeep

In recent years, competition for resources has been fierce, as growing human and elephants populations increasingly encroach on each other’s space. According to local media reports, more than 200 people have been killed by elephants in the past five years and crops have also been destroyed. “Our people must benefit, this is a resource we think we can monetise,” Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, stressed. “That’s why we’ve been saying that our elephants must pay for their upkeep“.

African elephant
A male African Savannah elephant is collared after being tranquillised during an elephant collaring operation in the the Lake Jipe region of Tsavo West National Park © Kenya Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Ivory trade spells doom

But international wildlife charity organisation Born Free’s head of policy, Mark Jones, who has celebrated the restrictions on trade in ivory and rhino horn, said lifting the embargo at the CITES summit would have “seriously undermined” existing conservation efforts. He urged the SADC bloc to continue their membership and work with the international community to find solutions for species threatened by trade and trafficking.

Another wildlife expert Patricia Awori, and director of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network, warned that calls to relax the African elephant’s protected status and promote so-called “one-off sales” of stockpiled ivory would spell doom and exacerbate ivory poaching.

Elephants embrace in the Luvuvhu river at the Pafuri game reserve in Kruger National Park © by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Too much time has been spent talking about the ivory trade, Awori stated. “We need to be looking at ways to create livelihood opportunities for those communities’ to co-exist with wildlife and thrive, instead of focusing on stockpiles”.

However, the African elephant, lion and hippo appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s (IUCN) “red list” of animals at risk of extinction, and needing greater protection.

Presumably, time has come for the four southern African countries to increase their law-enforcement efforts coupled by enacting stiff legislation that would  help  to curb illegal ivory trade.

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