Southern African countries that were represented at the just ended Africa Elephant Summit in Hwange, Zimbabwe, have agreed to challenge the ivory trade ban imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Nineteen elephant-rich African countries were invited to the summit, but only six showed up, and the delegates resolved to push for the legalization of the international ivory trade to help with elephant population control.
Out of the six countries, five of them signed the Hwange declaration to push for the agenda. These countries include Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Namibia and are home to an estimated 300,000 elephants.
The Representatives released a statement stating unequivocally that the ivory trade prohibition is unjust and urged all African countries to speak with one voice at the 19th CITES conference, which will take place in Panama in November this year.
Signatories to the Hwange Declaration want to create a new and better bargain for elephant conservation and tourism. The Southern African governments say that lifting the prohibition will help to better preserve the elephants while also benefiting the local residents living around them economically.
"The hunting will generate revenue for the Conservation Trust Fund, which we will then use to compensate communities," said the Honourable Philda Kereng, Botswana's Minister of Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation, and Tourism.
The African Elephants Summit's outcome aligns with African leaders' views that the continent must take control of its resources and opposes unjust judgments made by countries that lack such resources.
Fulton Mangwanya, an authority at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management stated that "Our conservation tactics are working, and instead of being penalized, I believe we should be commended,"
The Hwange declaration is an attempt to control the region's elephant population. Elephant carrying capacity in Southern African countries has been exceeded, resulting in human-wildlife conflict. For example, Zimbabwe has a carrying capacity of 45,000 elephants but has the world's second-largest elephant population, with over 100,000, accounting for roughly a quarter of all elephants in Africa.
More than half of Zimbabwe’s elephants' dwell in and around Hwange National Park, which is roughly half the size of Belgium and covers 14,600 square kilometers (5,637 square miles) of land. Elephants travel freely in unfenced reserves, and it's common to see herds crossing or sleeping along the major highway from Hwange to Victoria Falls.
The success of Zimbabwe's conservation efforts has had the unintended consequence of increasing human-wildlife conflict. At least 60 people have been killed by elephants in Zimbabwe since the beginning of the year, compared to 72 in 2021.
Mangaliso Ndhlovu, Zimbabwe's tourism and climate change minister, warned that “elephants are threatened not by trade, but by habitat loss and human conflict. Governments in elephant range nations confront societal and political pressures to justify why elephants' lives and livelihoods are prioritized over their own”
A group of 50 anti-ivory trade organizations, on the other hand, released a statement warning that opening the ivory market would have a negative impact on the African herd. The anti-ivory organizations are of the view that the summit sends a dangerous signal to poachers and criminal gangs that elephants are just commodities, and this poses a serious threat to the species.
The United States, along with the European Union and the United Kingdom, remains opposed to lifting the embargo, while China and Japan are among those who support it.
CITES outlawed worldwide commercial ivory trafficking in 1989 but authorized Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to conduct a once-off sale of 50 tons of ivory to Japan in 1997.
Zimbabwe and other signatories of the Hwange declaration, however, have threatened to leave the treaty if the Ivory ban is not lifted.