HomeAnalysisEditors's Memo: Elephant summit: What’s the issue?

Editors’s Memo: Elephant summit: What’s the issue?

Nevanji Madanhire
In 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) banned the international trade in ivory.

However, there are still some thriving but unregulated domestic ivory markets in a number of countries, which fuel an illegal international trade.

Poaching to meet growing demand from affluent Asian countries is driving up the rate of poaching.

In some countries, political unrest contributes to elephant poaching.

The African elephant is still listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, according to conservation charity, Tusk.

The IUCN moved African elephants from “endangered” to “vulnerable” status in 2004, in part because the animals are relatively numerous and populations are growing in some areas.

The Zimbabwean government is calling for the lifting of the ban on trade in elephants and ivory to allow live sales, culling and trophy hunting and to enable it to sell a stockpile of ivory worth more than half a billion dollars.

The proceeds, the country says, will be used to fund the conservation of the animals.

The African elephant is on Appendix 1, down-listing it to Appendix 2 would allow culling to reduce the population.

But other African countries led by Kenya are against this saying trade in the African elephant should continue to be banned.

In successive meetings held in Botswana and Zimbabwe over the years, together with other countries in the region which form the Kaza bloc, Zimbabwe lobbied for the relaxation of the ban during the inaugural Wildlife Economy Summit in June 2019 in Victoria Falls aimed at establishing a common position on issues of sustainable wildlife management ahead of the Cites meeting in August that year.

Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe form the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza TFCA) commonly referred to as the Kaza bloc. It is home to more than 250 000 elephants out of the estimated 400 000 elephants worldwide. Zimbabwe boasts more 100 000 jumbos which it says are more than 50 000 too many for the habitat.

Southern African countries argue that Cites is a voluntary organisation so it must not give itself a policing role but must be a developmental organisation which promotes conservation communities and sustainable utilisation of all wildlife resources.

They argue Cites’ “one-size-fits-all” policy on conservation undermines countries with successful conservation strategies in the Kaza bloc.

Cites should therefore commend the region for overseeing the growth in elephant population and incentivise conservation by allowing free trade.

The sale of ivory would help the region maintain good conservation for the next two decades.

Elephant hunting would help protect communities living next to wildlife.

According to Zimparks farmers living near conservation areas have lost more than 7 000 hectares of crops to stray elephants.The human population is growing and is encroaching onto wildlife areas; renewed trade in elephants would reduce human-wildlife conflict.

According to a study commissioned by WWF in 2005 elephant conservation in southern Africa has been remarkably successful over the last century.

The region’s elephant populations collapsed in the late 1880s through over-hunting, but their numbers have since increased more than 20-fold; from less than a few thousand to 250 000 to 300 000 today.

Human and elephant population growth has led to compressed and fragmented elephant ranges, increasing human-elephant conflict and an escalating elephant overpopulation problem.

Botswana, with approximately 150 000 elephants, carries the largest elephant population in the world.

Zimbabwe with 100 000 elephants is the second largest. This population is growing at about 5% per annum.

There is no clear evidence that population growth rates are declining.

The arguments are compelling and Cites should should take the southern African position seriously.

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