Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
THE lie that is usually peddled by those seeking a complete ban on the global commercial trade in ivory is that such a ban will help combat poaching of the endangered African elephant. But does it, really?
In a public show of defiance, Kenya — a strong proponent of the ban — recently burnt $105 million worth of ivory — some 105 tonnes of its cache.
The message — coming as it does just a few months ahead of the September global wildlife meeting in South Africa — was clearly designed to influence discussions and outcomes of that conference towards adopting the ban.
But Kenya’s grand standing on the global stage has found no takers in Zimbabwe — a country saddled by a burgeoning elephant herd, and some 70 tonnes ivory inventory.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri has poured cold water on the possibility of any ivory burning here.
Instead, she says Zimbabwe will seek to convert the non-believers like Kenya and most of West Africa when the world meets for the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in South Africa later this year.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri hopes the ban proponents will see the light and back Zimbabwe’s plans for liberalised trade not only in ivory, but the elephant and other wildlife like lion also — and how that the proceeds will help boost conservation work for a department that is severely under-funded from an equally constrained central Government.
Under CITES, the global watchdog for endangered animal species, Zimbabwe is barred from trading in elephant or its tusks except in exceptional situations.
That’s an Appendix II listing. Kenya and other like-minded nations want Zimbabwe elevated to Appendix I where commercial trades are completely banned — all on the myth of curbing poaching.
Across Africa, poaching is rife particularly in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Uganda.
Now, while the elephant is killed primarily for its tusks, there is no conclusive direct evidence linking species survival to bans on commercial trade of the kind.
As a matter of fact, controls tend fuel demand that in the absence of a legal market will be met underground through the black market.
Wildlife trafficking — the euphemistic phrase used by conservationists to describe the illegal underground trade in wildlife and wildlife products — now poses one of the biggest threats to species extinction.
As in the real economy, controls can lead to shortages, and shortages to arbitraging — in this case criminal wildlife syndicates, dangerous syndicates.
With controls in place, ivory prices will likely sky-rocket, driving more people into the trade in the hope of quick rich pickings.
Why is it that poaching figures have remained in the thousands since the CITES began turning the screws on elephant and elephant tusks trade many years ago, we should ask?
In 2013, over 20 000 African elephants were killed illegally for their ivory, according to CITES.
The figure was a decline on 2011 and 2012 levels, but remains unsustainably high.
The watchdog says more than 500kg of ivory meant for the black market were seized before they left Africa in 2013. And that’s just what we know. How about that illegal ivory which actually left the continent that we don’t know about?
The CITES should recognise that there is an active global market for ivory and the elephant — and that market will continue to thrive.
Complete bans as called for by Kenya and its ilk will only but oil the multi-billion-dollar wildlife trafficking industry.
A ban will not feed the world’s hunger for ivory. It adds to the hunger.
So are we saying we let market forces determine the dynamics in the global commercial ivory trade, and trade in other wildlife species and wildlife products?
Yes, broadly. That accompanied by stricter national and international legislative oversight in wildlife management.
According to a 2014 report, CITES admits that the high poaching incidents in Africa result mainly from poverty, weak governance structures and poor funding.
It is not clear how complete bans will help end poverty nor increase wildlife conservation funding in African states.
With $10 billion worth of wildlife and wildlife products traded worldwide illegally each year, CITES says, it is more provident that governments implement plans that strengthen domestic wildlife management systems while ensuring that communities living in wildlife zones derive maximum benefit from that relationship — so much that it addresses the evil of poverty that drives people into poaching.
A country like Zimbabwe could do more with a 70-tonne ivory inventory sold legally than burnt.
Burning brings in neither the money needed to manage wildlife sustainably nor the financial wherewithal needed to halve poverty or tame poaching.
In most African countries, weak funding from central governments has left multi-national donors and private individuals having to dig deeper into their own pockets to combat poaching.
And this is something that ivory burning nor complete bans can achieve.
Experts say the loss of species results in biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, diminishing the quality of human lives and basic economic security.
By saving species people save biodiversity and the ecosystems that provide the natural resources needed to survive.
God is faithful.