CITES ivory decision adverse for our region

A decision taken recently by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) not to lift the ban on ivory trade despite valid arguments presented by Namibia and other SADC states is deeply unfair, ecologically destructive and illogical.

At the 18th meeting of CITES in Switzerland, which happens every three years, Namibia together with Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe had attempted to sway other countries in voting for the proposal to allow the countries to sell their stockpiled ivory, with sales proceeds going towards wildlife management and community programmes.

Today, Zimbabwe has hinted that it might dump CITES in a bid to allow the country to benefit from its ivory stockpile. While this might be an extreme route and more so for a small country like Namibia, it is suggestible that Namibia and her peers join hands in coming up with a united voice towards action that may well be beneficial for their cause.

What CITES is not taking into full consideration is that Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe are home to over 250 000 elephants — 75 percent of the world’s jumbo population. The regional herd had grown to a stage of overpopulation but because of stringent conditions imposed by CITES, the countries cannot freely harvest and trade in their elephants and its products, not only to bring their population to a more sustainable level but also to earn revenue to fund conservation programmes.

In many parts of Africa, elephants are protected under CITES Appendix I, which means that trade is only permitted under very exceptional circumstances. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia sought to have their elephants down-listed to Appendix II, a designation that allows a commercial trade in registered raw ivory with approved trading partners.

With this over population of elephants in play in our region, it goes without saying that the decision by CITES does not serve the interests of the region.

What is true is that with proper controls and enforcement, a legal trade would choke off demand for illicit ivory and discourage the poaching now decimating the continent’s elephant populations and at the same time generate money which would be utilized to support elephant conservation   and    rural conservation programmes.

We have asked the question before, how realistic — and desirable — is ivory prohibition? Ivory has been an item of trade since pre-history, and its use is deeply ingrained in many cultures. Its allure may diminish, but won’t disappear. Prohibiting legal ivory commerce drives demand into the black market, leaving trade solely in the hands of criminals.

Demonizing ivory by promoting the questionable destruction of national ivory stockpiles, shutting down previously legal ivory sales, even calling for destroying ivory art in public collections — none of these approaches has any effect on reducing poaching, and might even increase it.

Anti-ivory trade campaigners base their case for ivory prohibition on the misleading claim that “behind every piece of ivory is a dead elephant.” As a result, the public equates “dead” with “killed,” which is not always the case. If there were no poaching whatsoever, there’d still be a significant supply of ivory from elephants that die from natural mortality.

This is a tragedy for Africans and indeed the SADC region, which can’t benefit from a natural resource that’s theirs, and for elephants, which could benefit if new revenues were available for conservation programs that are currently underfunded.