Jeffrey Gogo Climate
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri says Zimbabwe is “going to put up a really strong fight” to have a global ban that has left the country stuck with a multi-million dollar 96 000kg ivory cache lifted.
She was speaking after it emerged last week that those opposed to lifting the ban had become unrelenting in their efforts to permanently shut debate on the commercial trade of ivory — the remains of thousands of elephants hunted illegally for their tusks, or those dying from natural causes. It also emerged that the ivory crushing crusade of August 3 in New York, US, where 2 tonnes of ivory were reduced to dust in a calculated demonstration of ivory’s worthlessness unless on a live animal, was actually much larger than we had previously thought.
“We have engaged in strategic talks (I cannot pre-empt the talks), and countries that have been fighting us, we seem to be winning them over,” Mrs Muchinguri-Kashiri told The Herald Business on August 11, by telephone. “We certainly have not been sleeping. We have been engaging.”
Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, which have previously resisted calls for legitimising international ivory trade — banned 28 years ago — had since joined the foremost trade advocates of Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, in the “fight”, she revealed. The Environment Minister said they had even managed to convert some among the so-called African Elephant Coalition, a group of 29 African countries that last September, together with the EU and wildlife campaigners, rejected a plan by Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa that would have allowed ivory sales in the future. But circumstances are beginning to change as the moratorium on ivory sales that Zimbabwe agreed to back in 2007, ostensibly as a compromise to keep the debate on commercial trade open, is due to expire in November.
“The moratorium is falling away this year. This means that the decisions that were made 10 years ago would have to be renegotiated again,” said Minister Muchinguri Kashiri, hopeful a sale will be in the offing this time round.
Zimbabwe wants to be allowed to sell its elephants — at 80 000, the world’s second largest herd after Botswana — and to sell its 96 000kg of ivory to help raise revenue to protect the same, wildlife officials say.
That’s despite fears in some quarters that doing so would only fuel poaching of the African elephant, already at crisis level, with some 30 000 animals killed illegally each year for their ivory, according to the Great Elephant Census report of 2015.
And in order to prevent poaching, CITES, the global watchdog for endangered animal species, in 1989 banned the global trade in ivory, with Zimbabwe’s last legitimate trade happening on November 1, 2008 — a one-time sale of 3 700kg of ivory to Japan and China. Based on the average price of $135 a kg reported in the 2008 transaction, we assume any future sale will be benchmarked against the last per kg selling price, valuing Zimbabwe’s current stock of ivory at an estimated $13 million, according to calculations by The Herald Business.
It is worth noting that Harare’s plan to push through the adoption of the Decision Making Mechanism, which would allow trade in ivory in future, was rejected by an overwhelming majority of 76-20 during the last Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in South Africa in 2016.
Now, that’s in effect a rejection of the compromise agreement on the moratorium of 2007, to which Zimbabwe committed. It is also one of the clearest indications yet of the growing influence of the anti-ivory trade lobby, and how the opportunity for legitimate trade is closing with each passing year.
Campaigners are using various tactics to turn the world’s attention away from endorsing legal trade calls by those countries in southern Africa bearing the world’s burden in looking after elephants, which often times destroy food crops and homes. From burning to crushing, NGOs, governments and conservators have brought destruction to thousands of kilogrammes of confiscated ivory, hammering home the message ivory was not for sale.
We reported here last week that the World Elephant Society, a US-based non-profit group, had crushed 2 000kg of “illegal ivory”. It has since emerged the Society was not acting alone, Patricia Sims, a co-founder of the WES, said by email.
The ivory crush was conducted by a coalition of organisations led by the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), with support from some of the world’s most prominent wildlife conservation NGOs.
Participants included the African Wildlife Foundation, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Humane Society of the US, International Fund for AnimalWelfare, National Geographic, National Resources Defense Council, Saving Animals Facing Extinction, US Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, WildAid, Sims said.
This is no longer grand-standing. Here is a large group of powerful, wealthy actors that are capable of influencing global legislation on ivory trade. The fact that these groups could come together in a common act that would otherwise fail to find currency in Zimbabwe, Namibia or South Africa, demonstrates just how big the fight for ivory has become.
We’ll stick around
We asked Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri whether Zimbabwe would consider options outside the CITES legal regime, should efforts at reform within the 180-government member body fail.
“This is an issue that requires a lot of debate on our side here in Zimbabwe,” she admitted, but only.
“We cannot afford to leave CITES just like that. We work as a region . . . so whatever position that Zimbabwe adopts, we have to sell that to the other countries in SADC. Together, we form a formidable force, which will lobby, if we are required to do so, as we have been doing in the past.”
In the past we have argued that a radical alternative may include a complete or partial break-away from the Convention.
In this scenario, countries backing the trade in ivory may create their own market, supported by bilateral instruments and agreements that do not only legitimise trade outside of the Cites, but ensure it is sustainable, transparent and accountable — with all trade statistics made public.
Or the ivory proponents could stick around in CITES, and hope to force change from within. Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri accused unnamed high ranking officials of marshalling a domestic “mafia” killing elephants for their ivory, as frustrating Zimbabwe’s efforts at achieving world acceptance as a genuine case for liberalising ivory trade.
“We are trying to clean up our image (as a country) . . . it’s a mafia. I am dealing with a mafia,” she complained.
God is faithful.