By Sinikiwe Marodza
The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES) ban on international ivory trade has done more harm than good within the SADC region, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) has said.
Upon its enactment in 1989, the CITES ban on global ivory trading among member states was intended to reverse a sharp decline in the African elephant population, purportedly due to increased levels of poaching, but it has failed to serve its purpose.
As the world gets ready for the 18th CITES conference of parties (COP18) in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from May 23 to June 3 this year, Zimbabwe has promised to continue fighting for the ban to be lifted so that it is allowed to sell its stockpiled ivory and use proceeds to develop poor communities.
Southern African countries such as Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have opposed the ban on trade in elephant products. They criticise ivory prohibition arguing that trade bans and stockpile destruction have a perverse effect of reducing supply, increasing prices and therefore incentivising further poaching.
These countries also argue that revenue from regulated ivory sales can be put to good use. The money can be used to finance the protection of elephants and their habitats and provide socio-economic benefits to communities who bear the costs of living with elephants.
In 2008, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were allowed a "one-off" auctions to sell ivory from government-managed stockpiles to Japan and China under very strict conditions. Revenue from the sales was used to develop poor rural communities who live side-by-side with the elephants.
Zimparks public relations manager Tinashe Farawo said representatives of the authority will in May travel to Sri Lanka with the agenda to fight against the continued ivory trade ban.
“We have in the past years fought against the CITES ban, in fact the fight has never stopped and it will never stop until our wish is granted.
“It is time for all countries in the Southern African Development Community to join hands and support each other at the next CITES convention conference.
"There is no tangible evidence that trade bans have ever saved any species from extinction," Farawo said.
"It is imperative for our regional economy that SADC countries unite in defending our right to sustainably use our natural resources.
“The ban has not only affected Zimbabwe, but the whole of Southern Africa, and over the years we have been pushing for the ban to be lifted so that we use the proceeds of national stockpiles to fund conservation and support communities living near elephants ranges.
“Banning trade in ivory has not solved the problem of poaching, neither has it helped in protecting and controlling the population of elephants in Southern Africa. Rather, it has created a problem of overpopulation of elephants,” he said.
According to the World Wild Fund for Nature, Southern Africa has more than 700 000 elephants.
Instead of working to the people’s advantage, the elephants have turned into a liability as rural communities suffer from crop losses and in some cases lives have been lost in the human-animal conflicts.
“In Zimbabwe, we have more than doubled the number of our elephant carrying capacity.
“Under normal circumstances, our country should cater for only 40 000 elephants but now we have about 84 000 elephants, meaning that we have exceeded the carrying capacity.
“Elephants in Zimbabwe have in many cases destroyed people's crops and in some cases, attacked and killed people. Because of the over population, elephants are now destroying the vegetation which disadvantages the rest of the wildlife,” Farawo said.
Wildlife can be used to contribute towards building and developing African economies through trading of products such as ivory and elephant skins.
“Domestic trading of ivory is what we practice in Zimbabwe and it has done quite a number of things in terms of developing our nation.
“We have managed to build schools, hospitals, provide medicine and create employment for communities surrounded by elephants. Through an initiative called Campfire (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources), in Zimbabwe we have done so much with the proceeds from these animals.
“Now imagine if the trade was done at an international level, how much could we have achieved by now?
“We want our people to benefit from the wild animals, not the other way round,” Farawo added.
Zimbabwe has an estimated 1001 tonnes of ivory in reserve in its stockpile, mostly from animals who die of natural causes.
CITES is a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. It was created out of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The convention was opened for signature in 1973 and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.
Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild, and it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants.