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Ivory proponents hard done at Cites . . . no ground for banning sales

Ivory proponents hard done at Cites . . . no ground for banning sales

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story

A PLAN by Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa to revive talks on ivory trade was last week rejected at the ongoing Cites meeting in South Africa, raising questions on whether legal ivory sales will ever see the light of day.

With a 96-tonne ivory stockpile, Harare was hoping to force through the adoption of the Decision Making Mechanism (DMM), which would allow trade in ivory in future.

The plan fell through after only 20 members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) voted in favour, and 76 against the mechanism — in dispute for nine years.

Now, fears are that further proposals by Zimbabwe and Namibia for a once-off sale will also face resistance, and possibly rejection, when they are presented at the meeting this week.

But the decision by some 29 African countries, supported by the West and wildlife campaigners, to completely avoid trade in ivory could not have been more flawed.

In a report, Cites has dismissed claims that the spike in the illegal killing of African elephant resulted directly from the last legitimate sale of ivory in 2008.

The claims were made by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a US non-governmental organisation.

It is instructive that Cites, which has carried out intensive monitoring and conservation of the animal in several African countries, including Zimbabwe, since 2000, found the NBER research short on merit.

Further, the disputed research is coming from the US, a country averse to any form of trade in ivory.

It is not clear how much influence the US authorities could have had in the making of the NBER report.

But it’s also undeniable that the final outcome generally reflects the US’ interests and position, presented to the world as independent research.

Doubtless, the National Bureau of Economic Research report may have been designed to influence negotiations at the Cites meeting towards an outcome that stops genuine ivory ambitions by countries like Zimbabwe in their tracks.

And it has worked, with strong support from African countries like Kenya, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Republic of Congo, which are losing elephants to poaching in huge numbers, mainly due to poor conservation, weak policy and poverty.

What’s clear, however, is that there are no legitimate grounds for shooting down proposals by Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa to trade in ivory to help build communities that live with elephants everyday of their lives. Science has failed to prove that there is a direct link between legal ivory sales and the increase in poaching.

Since the 2008 one-off sale, the number of elephants hunted illegally in Africa has been volatile, climbing to 25 000 in 2013 from 11 000 in 2007, before dropping to 20 000 last year, Cites data show.

And neither has science demonstrated that complete bans will combat poaching. For 40 years, the Cites has banned trade in the rhino horn, but that has not stopped illegal killings. About 25 percent of the remaining 20 000 white rhino in the wild have been killed in the last decade, spurred on by firm demand in China and Vietnam.

High demand

The demand for elephant tusks continues to flourish, too. Now, the laws of economics on supply and demand are pretty clear — where there is a market, supply will follow. Ivory is simply following its active buyers from Asia — who are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single tusk — albeit illegally.

It is a huge crisis, more so in view of the big bucks flowing into illegal wildlife trade each year — about $20 billion, Cites says. But if illegal sales are truly a crisis, why not just make the trade legit? Could the Johannesburg Cites conference have missed an opportunity to bring order, transparency and legality to the trade in ivory simply on account of emotion from those African countries failing to effectively manage their wildlife — and those from the West whose elephants exists only in zoos?

Could the lack of finality on ivory lead to a split within the Cites, with southern Africa — host to the world’s largest elephant herd — on the one hand and the rest of the world on the other, deepening a crisis that already has several parties on tenterhooks?

For there is no justification for the continued standoff in ivory sales. It may very well be what Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri referred to a few weeks ago — wildlife colonialism. And she’s fed up of it.

“We hope wildlife colonialism ends so communities and conservancies, especially, benefit. People must see a value in their wildlife so that sustainable utilisation with no poaching will continue,” she told The Herald Business in an interview.

It is almost a decade since Zimbabwe’s last commercial sale in ivory. A once off sale of 3 700kg to Japan and China on November 1, 2008, generated about $500 000, which was duly declared Cites, ZimParks acting director general Wilson Mutinhima said in a previous interview.

In South Africa, Harare was aiming to convince the world that ivory has value beyond what it represents on a live animal, particularly to those nations burdened by poor funding and an over-population of elephants, which often destroy forests and food crops. Zimbabwe wants to be allowed to sell its elephants — 80 000 of them, its 96 000 kilogrammes of ivory, and its lions to help raise revenue to protect the same, according to ZimParks.

The country is currently prohibited by the Cites from trading in elephant or its tusks except in exceptional circumstances — and it is likely to return from South Africa disappointed, hands empty.

God is faithful.

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