Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 14, March 2010
Southern Africa seeks CITES approval for sale of ivory stocks
by Egline Tauya

Southern African countries are seeking approval for the sale of their ivory stocks at an international conference on trade in endangered species.

The debate over sale of ivory from African elephants has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side-by-side with these large and potentially dangerous animals versus concerns that such sales may encourage poaching.

Essentially the debate is between those countries that have an overpopulation of elephants and want to ensure sustainable use, and those countries that have already decimated their elephant populations.

Most southern African countries support the proposal put forward by the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia for a review of the ban on trade in ivory.

The proposals by the two countries are top of the agenda at the 15th World Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (COP15 CITES) that runs from 13-25 March in Doha, Qatar.

CITES, which banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989, later permitted Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to sell some stocks of ivory to Japan, totalling over 150 tonnes in 1997 and 2002.

The decision was made in recognition of the fact that some southern African elephant populations are healthy and well managed.

Other sales in these countries took place in 1999 and 2008 and earned some US$20 million for elephant conservation and community development programmes in and around the elephant range areas.

At this year’s conference, Tanzania and Zambia are seeking similar approval to sell government-owned stocks of ivory that have accumulated over the years. Tanzania has nearly 90 tonnes of such stock, and Zambia has just over 21 tonnes.

The two countries confirm that, if approved, they will not sell the ivory until the CITES Secretariat has verified the stocks, and assure the Secretariat that the proceeds of the trade are used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes.

The two countries pledged not to ask for more trade in ivory for the next six years after the proposed sale.

Taking the opposite view, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are proposing a halt to international trade in African elephant ivory.

The opponents are proposing an extension of the period from 9 to 20 years in which no proposals should be submitted to CITES on this subject.

The CITES Secretariat comments that on the basis of decisions made at COP14, the proposal to amend the annotation from 9 to 20 years are not acceptable because no apparent change in the inhibiting situation has been recognized and the nine-year term to prohibit trade in African elephant ivory has not ended yet.

The nine-year period from the last sales in 2008 after approval at COP14 is to end in 2017.

Botswana supports the proposal by Tanzania saying the country has a robust, viable and healthy elephant population and no longer meets the criteria to be listed under CITES Appendix I.

Appendix I species are those threatened with extinction, and are or may be affected by international trade, while Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened, but may become so unless international trade is subject to strict regulations.

According to Botswana and other southern African countries, the proposal by Tanzania and Zambia balances the objectives for sustainable conservation and sustainable community development for the benefit of the elephants and the rural communities who coexist with the elephants.

The ivory trade ban would directly affect all African elephant range States, whereas the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia solely concern their own elephant populations.

According to the CITES provisions, the proponents of trade in ivory have to consult all African elephant range States about their proposal and would require a two-thirds majority to be approved at the CITES conference.

The Kenya-led group is also advocating for removal of a paragraph in the CITES Appendices which allows trade in individually marked and certified ivory carvings incorporated in finished jewellery for non-commercial purposes for Namibia and ivory carvings for non-commercial purposes for Zimbabwe.

Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are not in agreement with the proposed revision of the annotation that relates to the elephant population of their countries, as adopted by the 14th Conference of Parties to CITES.

They say the proposal undermines the efforts by all the key players at the last CITES conference who developed the draft African Elephant Action Plan.

The countries point out that the proposal is also against the spirit of international cooperation and fundamental principles of CITES.

The elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were transferred from Appendix 1 to II in 1997, and the population of South Africa in 2000.

These transfers were subject to detailed annotations that were further modified during subsequent meetings of the Conference of the Parties.

CITES Secretary General, Willem Wijnstekers, says that the Secretariat's final comments on the proposals will be based on objective assessments, using the criteria that parties to CITES have adopted and that reflect the provisions and principles of the Convention.

The assessment includes consideration of elephant numbers, conservation management measures, and trade controls in the proposing countries.

CITES was negotiated in 1973 when it was realised that international trade in wildlife and wildlife products could lead to the over-exploitation of certain species, thereby threatening them with extinction.

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