SADC must oppose complete ivory trade ban

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A few weeks ago, the British government convened a conference, under the auspices of the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), a radical group against trade in ivory, to deliberate on banning international trade in ivory. 

According to reports from London, the views of African countries, particularly those in the SADC region which is home to a sizeable number of elephants, were not seriously considered.

It appears the conference, instead of taking on board the views of countries which have managed to conserve the large mammals, thanks to sound wildlife policies, was a foregone conclusion aimed at implementing the ban on the trade in ivory.

Yet SADC countries -- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- have over the years managed to look after their elephants such that these have not only become tourist attractions, but also a nuisance when it comes to environmental degradation.

These countries are sitting on large stock piles of ivory from elephants that have died due to natural causes and have been knocking on the doors of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be allowed controlled trade in ivory.

Such trade will help to raise money to sustain their wildlife and conservation efforts and in the process, save the elephant.  The view that allowing trade in ivory will increase poaching is neither here no there.  Communities living alongside national parks will take ownership of the wildlife as long as they see tangible benefits from the animals.

Programmes such as the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) in Zimbabwe have proven that communities will preserve wildlife and help in the fight against poaching for as long as they benefit from the wildlife through the building of schools, clinics, hospitals, bridges and roads on their areas.

That is why the African states, particularly those from Southern Africa who own both the largest elephant populations on earth as well as stockpiles of ivory, oppose the EPI’s continued attempts to end trade in ivory. 

There is no doubt that the elephant populations in SADC countries is on the increase. In fact, Zimbabwe is believed to have a population of 100 000, against a carrying capacity of 45 000, thanks to sound environmental and wildlife management policies. 

The downside of this, however, is that the big elephant herd has an immense impact on the environment and increased human-wildlife conflicts, as authorities are not allowed to cull old or troublesome animals. The parks management authorities in the region are incapacitated to effectively monitor this big herd.  It is not our intention to re-ignite the debate on whether or not CITES should lift the ban on commercial trade in elephant products, suffice to say that controlled trade in ivory stocks like what Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are holding must be allowed under strict supervision of CITES. 

History tells us that controlled trade has happened before as stock piles increased. In 1999 and in 2008, raw ivory from government-owned stockpiles of several elephant range countries with Appendix-II elephant populations was auctioned off to designated trading partners. 

These auctions are commonly referred to as the “one-off ivory sales” and they are conducted under strict limitations placed on the sales and a number of conditions have to be met before the auctions can be held. All proceeds from the sales are to be used exclusively for elephant conservation. The 1999 auction involved the sale of raw ivory from Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to just one designated trading partner, Japan. 

The total amount of funds received from the auctions was approximately US$5 million. In 2008, South Africa joined Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe in the sale of their raw ivory stockpiles to two designated trading partners — China and Japan. The total amount of funds received from the auctions was approximately US$15,5 million. 

We believe it is time to conduct another auction of the ivory stocks under the strict supervision of CITES to designated partners. Proceeds from the sale would then be used for conservation efforts in elephant range countries. These countries have proven, through sound policies, that they can look after their animals and all that is needed is more resources for that.

This would be a win-win situation where the elephant continues to protected while communities living with the animals also benefit.  

We believe convening ill-informed conferences in London or anywhere else is not the right way to address the issue of ivory trade.   

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