Interview: Mixed feelings over southern Africa’s bid to stop up-lifting of elephant at CITES meet



Date Published


Wildlife experts in Zimbabwe have expressed mixed feelings over proposals presented at the on-going Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in South Africa for the elephant to be up-listed onto Appendix I and thus curtail trade in the species.
Zimbabwe is among some Southern African countries, including South Africa and Namibia, which have objected to proposed measures submitted to CITES to make commercial trade in elephant products extremely difficult by up-listing the species from Appendix II.

President of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe Emmanuel Fundira is attending the conference in Johannesburg and fighting in Zimbabwe’s corner.

“Our position is very simple. We would like the elephant to remain in Appendix II. You cannot deploy a one size fits all approach for the whole of Africa because some regions have failed to manage their elephant populations,” he told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

“We are saying if they are concerned about the size of elephants in other regions so be it, but we can have a split listing and those of us, especially in Southern Africa, who have huge populations can continue to trade,” he said.

He accused some countries, especially those in West Africa, of dancing to the tune of donors who want the elephant to be up-listed at the expense of local communities who could also benefit from trade in elephants and ivory.

At least 10 African nations including Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Togo and Kenya, have supported the proposals to up-list the elephants, largely as a way to curb rampant poaching.

Zimbabwe has one of the world’s largest herd of elephants, standing at around 84,000, and says it needs funding, especially derived from hunting to sustain it. The country has also fallen victim to massive poaching which resulted in more than 100 elephants dying from poisoning in 2013.

Appendix I includes species that are near extinction, and trade in animal parts from this category is permitted only under controlled circumstances and commercial trade is usually not allowed, even though some trade for personal use such as trophy hunting may be permitted.

If the up-listing proposal is implemented, people may still hunt the animals but exporting of trophies would need CITES import permits from their resident country and CITES permit from the country where the hunt was conducted.

It is feared that, in the case of the United States and the European Union, moving the species into Appendix I would effectively end trophies being imported there. Funding for sustainable hunting will dry up.

However, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force Johnny Rodrigues said he supported the up-listing, saying that continued trade in elephants would hurt local tourism in the long term and was also not benefiting rural communities as should be the case.

“We want the elephant to be in Appendix I so that we stop the mismanagement that is happening where only the chefs are benefiting.

He also alleged that only the land owners, the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and safari operators were benefiting from elephant trade, while surrounding communities got nothing.

But Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association Lewis Muller argued that the up-listing of the elephant would disadvantage the local communities more.

He called for sustainable utilization of wildlife where the elephant would continue to be hunted while the communities, which are getting into increased conflict with the elephants over habitat, could benefit from trophy sales.

Muller said Zimbabwe had one of the healthiest elephant populations in the world and should be allowed to manage its herd in a sustainable manner.

“Elephants need to be managed on a regional basis, and not on a continental basis. We have to look at the issue region by region, and those that have fewer elephant populations should be allowed to up-list to Appendix I,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is currently stuck with more than 96 tonnes of ivory which it cannot sell because of a CITES ban imposed to control poaching.

Zimbabwe’s laws are heavy on poachers, with a 41-year-old man from Binga to the north of the country being jailed 16 and half years for the crime in 2015.

Zimbabwe attributes its healthy wildlife populations to its robust sustainable wildlife utilization programs involving both consumptive and non-consumptive uses, which ensure that proceeds from wildlife are ploughed back into conservation.

In the meantime, delegates at the on-going CITES meeting are said to have derailed an attempt to set up a Decision Making Mechanism which would allow some trade in ivory in the future, which was being supported by some southern African states.