Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Door on ivory trade closing fast

Door on ivory trade closing fast

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
The World Elephant Society (WES), a nascent not-for-profit US conservation group, last Thursday (August 3) crushed $8 million ivory’s worth to dust, following in Kenya’s self-absorbed footsteps from a year ago.

It is a stunt that is as sickening as it is nourishing. Sickening in the sense that the destruction took place in the US district of Manhattan in New York City, far from Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park or Namibia’s Etosha National Park – the real natural elephant habitats.

Sickening in the sense that while the WES views the destruction of ivory a noble gesture, other key stakeholders in elephant conservation such as Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, which host significant elephant populations, do not.

And nourishing — only marginally — in the sense that the world still cares so much that certain agents are willing to go the full mile to protect animals faced with extinction, even when the ways they choose to demonstrate that concern infringe on the rights of others. It is a contradiction that were it not for its seriousness — the protection of one of the world’s few remaining iconic wild animals — would be funny

Apart from those animals held captive in zoos, the US is not known to host any elephants of note in the wild, if at all, even though it is a major funder of elephant conservation elsewhere.

So, what would be the significance of destroying 2 tonnes of “illegal” ivory in a ridiculously affluent commercial and financial centre like Manhattan?

To capture the attention of the world’s biggest funders of elephant conservation, that’s why – effectively cutting the flow of aid to those countries considered rogue, those that have continued to press for legitimate trade in elephant tusks.

The ultimate message though is to reinforce global calls for a complete ban in commercial ivory trade, as championed by African states that have failed in elephant conservation, such as Kenya and their backers in the West.

It is a message for which Kenya was unflinching when it razed 105 tonnes of ivory by fire last year, in a desperate grand standing act of the highest order.

Kenya’s plan was to influence the outcome of the CITES meeting hosted by South Africa last September, which it did, as the conference upheld the global ban in ivory trade – in place for the past 10 years.

Wealthy Western funders love this kind of posturing by a loyal subject, and with a $150 million bounty from the US to support its wildlife conservation for the next decade, Kenya had earned its stripes.

But it is how Kenya’s apparent self-serving actions are beginning to gain currency with campaigners, as Zimbabwe’s calls — and those of South Africa and Namibia — for liberalising the trade in ivory die a quiet death.

The World Elephant Society is using the August 3 ivory crushing event to mark the beginning of a 10 day count-down to the World Elephant Day on August 12, and to drive home the message ivory is not for sale. Ivory sales could only fuel the illegal killing of elephants, it says.

Ban crusade getting stronger
We predicted last October, after the failure at the South African leg of the CITES meeting, that the anti-ivory crusade will more than ever before get much stronger, as those in favour weaken.

We are already beginning to see these predictions slowly coming to pass.
Now, with two years before the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference, there is a real chance that the debate on commercial ivory sales will close permanently, leaving Zimbabwe stuck with a 96 tonne pile of unsold tusks.

Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri’s fears of “wildlife colonialism” will be complete, should that happen. And the minister appeared resigned to the notion the global ban on ivory may never be lifted, when she addressed Parliamentarians at a meeting in Harare on July 7.

Criticising the West for turning a blind eye to Zimbabwe “excelling in wildlife conservation”, Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri pleaded “we should be rewarded for these efforts through sustainable utilisation, but instead we are being punished through trade restrictions.”

The only reason that the world’s attention is centred on Zimbabwe’s 80 000 elephant herd, the world’s second largest, is because the country has largely managed to keep poachers at bay, and to grow the herd prudentially, even on a shoestring budget, she said.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spends around $30 million each year in wildlife protection. But unlike Kenya that enjoys foreign support, ZimParks self-funds, with only about 1 percent of its annual spending funded by the Treasury.

That budgetary support has since been cut, the Environment Minister told Parliamentarians. ZimParks is now expected to operate commercially, and it has begun this journey by selling off its safari properties to those that can better manage it.

It’s a desperate measure to raise funds for conservation, by any means, where 96 tonnes of ivory could have easily raised $384 million, to use the WES’ valuations for its 2 tonne ivory cache.

Together with South Africa and Namibia, Zimbabwe has sulked at the idea of destroying ivory as a conservation strategy. Instead, it has always argued that selling the ivory, legally, and reinvesting the proceeds into wildlife protection, made so much sense.

The trio failed to force through the adoption of the Decision Making Mechanism, which would allow trade in ivory in future, when South Africa hosted the CITES conference last September. Even plans for a once-off sale were shot down.

The plan was rejected by an overwhelming majority, after only 20 members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted in favour, and 76 against the mechanism — in dispute for 10 years.

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 to CITES, according to ZimParks officials.

But a country like Zimbabwe could do more with a 96-tonne ivory inventory sold legally than burnt or crushed.

According to a 2014 report, CITES admits that the high poaching incidents in Africa result mainly from poverty, weak governance structures and poor funding. Burning or crushing brings in neither the money needed to manage wildlife sustainably nor the financial wherewithal needed to halve poverty or tame poaching.

We have queried in the past: if illegal ivory sales are truly a crisis, why not just make the trade legit?

Past CITES meeting have consistently failed to bring order, transparency and legality to the crucial issue of trade in ivory, often times simply on account of emotion from those African countries failing to effectively manage their wildlife – and those from the West with money to buy the weak, never considering Zimbabwe’s single-handed efforts at successfully conserving a global resource.

There is little conviction future CITES conferences will arrive at decisions any different from those reached in the past, or for countries like Kenya, well-funded from abroad, to appreciate Zimbabwe’s need to sell its ivory.

Likewise, we reiterate our previous calls, that if there was a time Zimbabwe needed to consider options outside the Convention, and, possibly re-evaluate its membership, this would be it.

God is faithful.

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