After CITES, what’s next for SADC countries and their ballooning elephants?

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As what was largely expected, SADC countries have lost their battle to have the elephant down listed from Appendix I to II so as to allow them to trade in ivory that is stockpiled in several countries across the region.

That African countries went to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species on Flora and Fauna 18th Conference of Parties (CITES COP18) divided is regrettable and just goes to show that no development will take place on the continent as long as there is no unity of purpose among Africans.

It is also regrettable that those rich and powerful countries of the west, together with their equally rich and powerful non-governmental organisations, still have the power to dictate to Africa, including how Africans should use their God-given resources.

That some African countries, notably those in the eastern and western parts of the continent, most of whom no longer have any sizeable number of elephants to talk about, chose to side with the western powers and their NGOs, smacks of the double standards and the divide and rule tactics used when Africa was colonised in the late 1800s.

But we believe it was a good fight by the SADC states of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which have more than three quarters of the elephants found on this planet. The world has got about 400 000 elephants and three quarters of that population is within the SADC region. That’s a big number considering the fact that the normal carrying capacity for one elephant is five square kilometres.

The fight was lost not because these countries had a poor case, far from it, but because of the strong, rich and powerful western lobby which does not seem to understand the impact of a ballooning elephant population on the environment in the four SADC states.    

There is also a serious human-wildlife conflict in the Southern Africa region that has over the years seen thousands of people losing their lives every year, and large amounts of crop fields destroyed.  All the SADC states wanted was to be allowed limited trade in ivory so that they could use the funds raised for conservation efforts as well as developing poor communities that live alongside wildlife.  Nothing more, nothing less.  In any case, why should other countries that do not have elephants, be allowed to decide the fate of those animals and their peoples?

Now that the battle has been lost, we believe the SADC states, having held various meetings ahead of CITES’ COP18 to strategise on how to tackle the issue, including the elephants summit attended by their heads of states in May, should consider holding post-mortem meetings to map the way forward.  The battle is lost, but the war should continue, albeit with different strategies.

We will still continue to call for a unity of purpose not only among SADC member states, but appeal to all African countries, including those that voted against the SADC countries’ proposals, to speak with one voice when it comes to the issue of ivory trade.   Those that voted against SADC must come to their senses and see through the western powers’ machinations to continue exploiting Africa’s resources at the expense of the Africans.

 Africans need to look through the smokescreen and give this issue careful consideration. We believe no African elephant range country wants to see a depletion of its elephants through poaching.  All we seek to point at is for ivory to benefit the people in which this resource is found.  There is no reason why African states should continue begging for aid from western capitals when they are sitting on vast natural resources, including ivory, that can be sustainably utilized for the benefit of their peoples.

Again, contrary to widespread fears that allowing ivory trade will result in increased poaching activities, we believe a lift in the ban on trade in ivory and elephant products to allow for controlled trade will have a more positive impact on those communities as the funds would be channeled towards conservation efforts. 

It is our view that the issue of ivory trade should have been resolved once and for all and for the benefit of all parties concerned.  There are sound conservation efforts in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe which have seen the elephant population ballooning to unstainable levels, hence the rise in human-elephant conflicts and a huge impact on the environment.

Besides, sound wildlife management has resulted in tourists flocking to these SADC countries which have created huge wildlife parks such as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) and the Great Limpopo Transfontier Park, in the process bringing in the much-needed foreign currency.  It therefore defies logic that these countries would sit on their laurels and watch their elephant populations being depleted by poachers!

There is no way, therefore, SADC countries would support a move that would see a demise of their wildlife, given that wildlife brings in the much-needed revenue through tourism. It is therefore time for a rethink of a new strategy that would see the region benefitting from its wildlife resource, elephants included. 

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