SADC countries gang up against CITES over ivory trade


Mpho Tebele

Gaborone- In a dramatic turn of events, Botswana has joined forces with Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to compel the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to open up ivory markets for the four southern African nations ahead of the organisation’s forthcoming meeting taking place in May in Sri Lanka.

In 2016, during the CITES meeting held in South Africa, Botswana was initially party to the proposal to open up ivory trade only for it to climb down and support a total ban on ivory. But according to the latest proposal to CITES, a copy of which has been seen by The Southern Times, Botswana has thrown its weight behind a proposal to weaken restrictions on ivory trade.  

In their latest proposal, the four Southern African nations are calling for a number of amendments to certain controls by CITES. 

They want trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes and trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations for Botswana and Zimbabwe and for conservation programmes for Namibia and South Africa.

They also propose that there should be trade in hides, trade in hair and trade in goods for commercial or non-commercial purposes for Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and for non-commercial purposes for Zimbabwe.

They are also calling for trade in individually marked and certified ivory incorporated in finished jewellery for non- commercial purposes for Namibia and ivory carvings for non-commercial purposes for Zimbabwe.

They also want trade in registered raw ivory (for Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, whole tusks and pieces) subject to the following: only registered government-owned stocks, originating in the State (excluding seized ivory and ivory of unknown origin).

The quartet also want to deal only with trading partners that have been verified by the Secretariat, in consultation with the Standing Committee, to have sufficient national legislation and domestic trade controls to ensure that the imported ivory will not be re-exported and will be managed concerning domestic manufacturing and trade.

The trade in some of the goods should not be done before the Secretariat has verified the prospective importing countries and the registered government-owned stocks.

“On a proposal from the Secretariat, the Standing Committee can decide to cause this trade to cease partially or completely in the event of non-compliance by exporting or importing countries, or in the case of proven detrimental impacts of the trade on other elephant populations,” reads the proposal in part.

According to the document, “This proposal seeks to amend the Annotation to the listing of the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in Appendix II as elements of this Annotation are no longer relevant or not appropriate.”

CITEs explained that Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

In justifying why they are calling for the weakening of the restrictions on ivory trade, the four countries stated that Southern Africa has the largest population of the African elephant in the world.

Despite the increasing threats faced by elephants, chief among them being habitat loss and poaching, the elephant populations of Southern Africa in general and the four countries named in this proposal specifically are secure and expanding.

“In southern Africa, four countries: Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have relatively large elephant populations and show either increasing trends or mild and non-significant declines recently,” reads the document in part.

It states that the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are an anomaly in CITES. The document says these populations comprise around 256,000 elephants or 61.6% of all remaining elephants in Africa at the time that their continental status was reviewed most recently.

“The populations of all four countries show increasing, stable and non-significant declines. Further, a quarter of a million elephants are being managed in the world’s largest transfrontier conservation area, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) by five countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe) to which the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe contribute more than 80%,” states the document.

 It adds that “Movement corridors between the various national parks, conservancies, game reserves, state forests and hunting areas in the TFCA are being established or rehabilitated, strong cross border cooperation exists on law enforcement and anti-poaching and a long-term elephant conservation strategy for the TFCA is under development. The costs of these processes are high and beyond the reach of the participating governments.”

 It further noted that “Very little in CITES recognizes or supports any of this enormous achievement (conservation programmes) or serves to assist countries with large elephant populations to continue protecting them in the face of human population increases, infrastructure development and other changes in land use that erode wildlife habitat.”

Taking a broadside at the international organisation, the document states that “CITES has acted as an inhibitor and not an enabler of progress. The Conference of the Parties has repeatedly discounted the importance of the Southern African elephant population and its conservation needs against other regions in Africa.”

The document says that national parks in the four countries cannot absorb any additional elephants or in some cases even maintain the high levels of elephant populations that they already hold.

It is essential, the documents say, that free movement of elephants in and out of protected areas and wildlife habitat on neighbouring land and in neighbouring countries are enabled. For that to happen, the document notes, the cooperation and goodwill of the people occupying that land are essential.

“Rural people can co-exist with elephants; there is ample demonstration of that in Southern Africa, under the right conditions of benefitting from elephants and exercising their rights in making decisions over elephants and elephant habitat. Rural people have rights, rights that are far more fundamental and internationally recognized than is applied in decision-making in CITES,” reads the document. It also observed that such rights cannot just be ignored or discounted in favour of extraneous considerations.

The document called on the Conference of the Parties (members of CITES) to recognize that it has to operate within the overall international governance framework, which includes due recognition of the right of local people to development and the right to make decisions over the resources that people depend on.

“The Conference of the Parties is accordingly requested to approve this proposal and thus allow the proponents, who are the Parties that have demonstrably been amongst the most successful in conserving elephants, to further strengthen their conservation programmes through regulated trade in elephant products;” it also stated.

The document concluded thus “It is time to remove the anomaly of having 256,000 elephant on Appendix II being treated as if they are on Appendix I, against the wishes of the people who own them and who have the most to lose or gain from them.”

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.






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