The Sunday Mail
THE Southern African Development Community (SADC) will push for a variable-weighted vote that gives more voting power to countries hosting wild creatures, whose trade is governed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), according to Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu.
CITES is a pact among 171 governments to ensure trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and imposes controls on international trade in the species.
The regulations are applicable to live plants and animal body parts like elephant tusks. Zimbabwe, alongside other southern African nations, is seeking to sell elephant tusks in a bid to raise funds to ramp up its conservation programmes and also to keep the population of the animal at sustainable levels to avoid human-wildlife conflicts.
The country has an estimated population of 100 000 elephants, more than double its holding capacity. CITES, the United Nations body, imposed a global ban on ivory sales in 1989 to stem a wave of poaching. Since the universal ban, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were only allowed to sell their stockpiles in 1998 in a once-off sale.
Zimbabwe has already warned that if it is not allowed to sell its 163 tonnes of ivory, estimated to be worth US$600 million, it may pull out of CITES. Botswana also warned it may pull out if it is not permitted to sell its elephant tusks.
In an interview on Friday, Minister Ndlovu said SADC environment ministers held a virtual meeting on Thursday ahead of the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to be held in Panama starting tomorrow that there was a need to give more “voting weights to countries hosting the species”, whose trade is regulated by CITES.
“The current situation where decisions are made by countries that are least or not affected is not healthy,” Minister Ndlovu said.
“We are saying we need to put some weightage on voting . . . to give regard to countries that host these species.”
He blamed powerful nations for using CITES to regulate the trade in animal products not in their realm.
“We end up having political decisions not rooted in the situation on the ground,” said Minister Ndlovu.
He added that SADC also agreed that the region would also lobby for the “involvement and inclusion” of communities affected by human-wildlife conflicts. The affected people are not involved in most of the processes. Their voices are not heard.”
In 2020, there were more than 50 injuries and 60 deaths resulting from wildlife-human conflict, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s website, a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
Climate change-induced droughts have resulted in elephants straying into villages in search of food and water, causing human-wildlife conflicts.
In May this year, Zimbabwe hosted an elephant summit in Hwange, which adopted a resolution that CITES should acknowledge the conservation efforts of southern African states and reward them by allowing the disposal of ivory stockpiles.
Domestic ivory trade should also be permitted, with the sovereignty of states and their rights to sustainable use of wildlife being respected.
The participating countries emphasised the need to generate revenues through the sale of elephant and wildlife products to raise funds for conservation, given that the CITES ban was depriving the sector of critical funding for conservation. The conference also agreed on the need to harmonise policy and legislation, and manage elephants as a collective unit across borders, through the promotion of Trans-frontier Conservation Areas, so that Africa speaks with one voice on the issue of elephant management.
According to assessments, cited in a recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a membership union composed of both government and civil society organisations highlighted a broad-scale decline in African elephant numbers across the continent. The number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86 percent in the last 31 years, while the population of African savanna elephants decreased by at least 60 percent over the last 50 years.
However, the Association of Zimbabwe Safari Operators chairman, Dr Emmanuel Fundira, said given the successes of wildlife conservation, trade should be allowed to “flourish”.
“There is empirical evidence where successes have been recorded and we should be equally given the opportunity to trade our wildlife products,” said Dr Fundira.
“We host the majority of elephants in SADC and we can’t have other countries continue deciding on our behalf because of their global economic influence. Equally, we cannot be advocates of the sustenance of species in the US without collaborating with local evidence.”
Some conservation advocates said, while local communities should benefit from the sale of wildlife resources, opening up trade would lead to “massive poaching”.
An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers seeking ivory, meat and body parts.
An appetite for ivory products in the Asian market also makes the illegal ivory trade extremely profitable, and has led to the slaughter of tens of thousands of African elephants.
Between 2010 and 2014, the price of ivory in China tripled, driving illicit poaching through the roof. If the elephants are to survive, the demand for ivory must be stopped.