Leonard Ncube in HWANGE
RANGE States attending an African Elephant conference in Hwange have said allowing trade in elephants and their products will reduce illegal trade as opposed to claims by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of fauna and flora (CITES).
Range States are countries with elephants on their land.
Most African countries were placed on Appendix 1 where trade in endangered species is banned by CITES.
Member states are meeting in Hwange to come up with a common position with regards to the ban ahead of the Conference of Parties 19 (COP19) to be held in Panama in November 2022.
Participants said countries were saddled with high costs of keeping stockpiles they are not allowed to sell.
Zimbabwe has US$600 million worth of ivory while Zambia and Botswana have significant stockpiles they can’t sell too because of the CITES ban.
In imposing the ban that effected in 1989, CITES spoke about the threats of illegal trade if sell of elephants and other endangered products was allowed.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said there was need for science-based decisions for sustainable conservation.
“Appendix categories were put specifically to highlight the level of threat that a particular specie is facing and those facing serious extinction threat are in Level 1 and there is no trade recommended to protect the particular species and allow the population to grow,” he said.
“Level 2 is where regulations begin to loosen and there is trade but non-commercial, science, research or once-off sales. Most Southern African countries are on Appendix 2 and there was an agreement for once-off trade using CITES guidelines. But there was an additional regulation put in place, further restricting trade.”
Minister Ndlovu said that was the major grievance raised by African countries at the last COP meeting leading to the ongoing conference.
“We want science to guide us but we don’t know if banning trade reduces poaching. Rhino hunting and trade was banned like 50 years ago but poaching has not stopped,” said Minister Ndlovu.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general Dr Fulton Mangwanya challenged CITES to unlock value of wildlife authorities by allowing sale of stockpiles.
“Illegal trade can be reduced through opening the vault that will allow trade and use proceeds for community development. Wildlife authorities should have power to scale down numbers through culling and selling which is why we are making noise,” he said.
Dr Mangwanya said CITES claims that allowing trade in ivory will promote poaching were surprising.
“We don’t understand this because naturally when you open, you saturate the market and poachers will be left with nowhere to sell.
“The best way is to say ‘since we have elephants dying from natural traction and ivory recovered from poachers, let’s sell these’. We are shocked because illegal sale of ivory is escalating while formal trade is banned.
“CITES should use common sense and listen to advice from scientists. When we stopped trade in 2009, there has been skyrocketing cases of illegal trade and there is illegal hunting and trade that is going unnoticed,” said Dr Mangwanya.
He said countries cannot continue keeping ivory stockpiles, adding that it costs a lot to manage elephants and protect those stockpiles.
Communities are not benefiting and one-day people will revolt, warned Dr Mangwanya.
The conference continues with official opening tomorrow when a declaration will be made based on recommendations from the meeting of experts that started on Monday.