It has been just a few months since Botswana spat in the face of conservationists when it lifted the ban on elephant hunting and its Eastern neighbour is planning to follow the same route. Zimbabwe has demanded that it is allowed to sell its accumulated stockpile of ivory to raise money for conservation.
The Southern Africa nation is currently going under economic turmoil with exchange rates depreciation affecting budgetary allocations that had been made to government departments. Wildlife authorities in the cash strapped nation have argued that the decades-old ivory hoard with an estimated value of $300 million could help fund the gap in game reserves.
However, the country is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which places the country’s elephant species in its Appendix 1. Species that are placed under this Appendix are prohibited from any commercial trade.
At the organisation’s last convention, Zimbabwe and Namibia had put forward proposals to be allowed to move their elephant population from Appendix I to Appendix II. This reclassification would allow them to trade in ivory provided that they had obtained the necessary permits from the organisation. However, these proposals were rejected in a secret ballot that was held at the summit in Johannesburg.
This shows how sometimes international conventions and treaties can be divorced from reality. This failure to understand the effects of how treaties affect individual countries can be noted in how Donald Trump has cited American interests for his refusal to sign the Paris climate change agreement. The treaties fail to look at the logical and scientific as well as economic impacts on the countries affected.
Southern Africa nations have been citing growing numbers of elephants in some regions in their bid to have the restrictions and the global ban on the trade in tusks to be relaxed. Zimbabwe authorities have reported that their elephant population has since more than doubled to 84,000 from their 1980 population of 40,000. This is a significant growth that calls into question the use of the term “endangered” when referring to Zimbabwe’s elephant population
Take a look at Botswana; the country currently has a population of about 130,000 elephants, the world’s largest. How does that even qualify to be anywhere near endangered? It is under such circumstances that the term endangered becomes a relative term, one that does not apply equally to every country.
In the words of Zimbabwe wildlife authority spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo, the argument for the lift of the ban is scientific and based on facts. The population has grown, and the land is not growing with it. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct and a due diligence has to be carried out to ascertain the population that can be supported by the current land.
In the recent lift of its five-year ban on big game hunting, Botswana cited that there was increased human and elephant conflict. The growing elephant populations have been encroaching human settlements thus also attracting predators to these settlements.
Due to phenomenon such as climate change, villagers and elephants are competing for scarce water in a remote part of Namibia, one of the nations that is part of the coalition pushing for the right to sell millions of dollars’ worth of ivory.
“We at times have to go without water when the elephants are at the water points and wells the whole day,” villager Iningirua Musaso told the Namibia Press Agency in 2016 interview.
Most affected by the impositions of the ban in trade and hunting are the rural communities that live near the elephant populations. These are the people who lose jobs when a ban is imposed. The donors are nowhere present when these people are left economically stranded. Instead, the so-called conservationist continues to enjoy an air-conditioned office, a 4x4 and a multi-storey suburban house.
In his interview with AFP, Farawo called on critics of the ivory sale proposal to “give us money to run our operations”, instead of lambasting it. He also pointed out the fact that CITES was meant to “regulate” trade in endangered species, therefore if there was no trade the body was not serving its purpose.
At the end of a one-day summit on elephants held in the Botswana northern town of Kasane earlier this year, Masisi remarked, “We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants.”
This has been a sad truth not only about elephants but generally the policy in Africa. For too long we have let policy decisions regarding our future be made at an international level. We have not learnt a lesson from the Economic Structural Adjustments programmes that the IMF imposed on us once upon a time.
The question that should answer the debate on whether to trade in elephants should be based on what’s best for Africans not what a “conservationist” in a Geneva office is thinking. What is best for Africa? That is the question we ought to be centring policy decisions on.
Header Image Credits: AP News