Namibia Running Out of Patience with CITES

At the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to CITES held last year, five southern African countries, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia proposed that the ban ontrade be lifted. These countries constitute the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA) which holds two-thirds of the continent’s approximately 400,000 African elephants. The Conference rejected this proposal, which elicited a great deal of frustration with the body which is supposed to manage and facilitate the international trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Recently Namibia’s Minister for the Environment, Pohamba Shifeta, said that his country was running out of patience with CITES.

The Minister presented the keynote address at a national elephant conservation and management plan consultative workshop in Windhoek in November 2020. With a healthy elephant population in the country, Shifeta said Namibia’s elephant conservation efforts are being hindered by the decisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“The most important incentive, namely the value that can be generated from trade in ivory, is currently severely compromised by the actions of animal rights groups who have influenced decisions at the Cites [conference] that undermine Namibia’s conservation programmes. For how long this is going to be the case is unclear, but our tolerance is being severely tested,” he said.

“Elephants are part of the natural resources of Namibia over which we have full sovereignty and there is a limit to how much external interference we will accept in the use of this resource. We favour a collective approach on the regulation of international trade but ultimately, we have to act in the interest of conservation and the rural people that are so important in determining the fate of elephants in the long term.

“Namibia has major stockpiles of valuable wildlife products including ivory which it can produce sustainably and regulate properly, and which if traded internationally could support our elephant conservation and management for decades to come,” said the Minister.

Namibia has been desperate to have the ban on ivory trade lifted so that the country can sell and benefit from its growing ivory stockpile. The environment ministry has previously expressed concern about the safety implications of keeping ivory stockpiles, as well as the cost thereof.

Both Botswana and Zimbabwe have burgeoning elephant populations, with the former being home to around 130,000 animals and Zimbabwe around 85,000. Natural mortality, particularly during the regular droughts that are normal in southern Africa, yields large quantities of elephant tusks. Hunting quotas for male elephants in both countries yield yet more ivory. By denying the right for southern Africa countries, who manage their elephants well, to sell their ivory on the international market, CITES is unilaterally denying these countries the opportunity to realise the full value of their wildlife resources.

The world should not expect these countries to continue to suffer economic hardship when they have the means to generate valuable income in their own hands. Since tourism and hunting have come to a complete standstill in Africa as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people living in rural areas in wildlife management areas or adjacent to protected areas have suffered the total loss of revenue from hunting and tourism.

Botswana, had a quota of 400 elephant hunts for 2020, and Zimbabwe around 500. These lost opportunities are costing both countries millions of dollars. It should also be remembered that those 400 potential male elephants that could have been hunted in Botswana in 2020 represent just 3% of the available males in the country.

With financial hardship and even starvation stalking many people in rural areas of southern Africa, are their governments going to continue to look at their growing stockpiles of ivory and tell their citizens to carry on being nice to elephants?

I think not, and I suspect that 2020 will prove to be the year that CITES finally reaches the end of the road of tolerance by African countries whose economic wellbeing is being compromised, because they are not allowed to sell the products of their successful wildlife management policies.


Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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