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Several African countries have agreed to work on an instrument to sell wildlife products, including ivory, to raise funds for conservation.
But Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) frameworks restrict trade in ivory in a bid to fight poaching.
In a declaration endorsed by Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe at last week’s African Elephant Summit held at Hwange National Park, Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries said they were tired of being dictated to by Cites when they are struggling to look after their wildlife.
The summit was attended by representatives from other African governments, wildlife conservationists and experts.
The summit was held on the back of increased human-wildlife conflicts in southern African nations.
Botswana and Zimbabwe alone have an estimated elephant population of 130 000 and 100 000, respectively, far beyond their individual capacities.
“We, therefore, commit to working collectively to reaffirm our commitment to the principle of sustainable use; generate revenue through sale of wildlife products by developing a viable instrument which will enable our countries to sell ivory stockpiles to raise funds for conservation; and leverage Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas as strategies and approaches for co-ordinated trans-boundary management for conservation of contiguous elephant populations on the continent,” Sadc countries agreed.
“We, therefore, commit to working collectively to prepare and publish an accurate information document for Cites member States on the cost of living with wildlife. Make a clarion call for Cites not to interfere with domestic trade, the sovereignty of States and their right to sustainable use of wildlife, advocate for the decision to be made based on elephant numbers in each country or region to curb the prevailing practice where decisions are influenced by non-affected nations,” the countries added.
According to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), locally, wild animals killed 68 people last year, up from 60 in 2020.
At least 32 people have been killed by wild animals this year.
ZimParks conservation director, Arthur Musakwa said climate change and drought were also causing wildlife animals to attack humans.
“Livestock is also being destroyed, infrastructure is also being destroyed and these are actually the impacts of climate change because when we have floods, we have a lot of problems. Even when we have droughts, we also have a lot of problems when people actually go to the rivers to do fishing and they get attacked by crocodiles,” he said.
Despite this, revenue from tourists visiting to see animals remains the sole source of finance for most African nations experiencing rising human-wildlife conflicts.
The declaration was, therefore, crafted to pressure Cites to reconsider its elephants and elephant products ban.
The last time Cites was forced to allow the sale of ivory was in 1999 and 2008.
“The Hwange Declaration on the African Elephant was the major highlight of the conference. This declaration seeks to address the issues of revenue generation through the sale of wildlife products by developing a viable instrument which will enable African Elephant Range States to sell ivory stockpiles to raise funds for conservation,” the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (Zela) said in a statement last Friday.
“The declaration makes a clarion call for Cites not to interfere with domestic trade, State sovereignty and their right to sustainable use of wildlife. The conference managed to address key issues identified by Zela in its pre-summit statement. These include the sustainable use of wildlife management, human-wildlife conflict, community participation in decision-making on wildlife management and community access and benefit sharing from wildlife resources for better livelihoods.”
However, Zela also called for a clear roadmap in addressing corruption that may occur if the sale of wildlife products is allowed. “While this is a step in the right direction, there is a need for a clear roadmap that crystallises these issues in a transparent manner that encompasses good governance, transparency and accountability,” Zela said.
“Corruption is another key issue which needs to be addressed. There is, thus, a need to come up with an integrated and holistic approach in the management of elephants, which not only promotes conservation efforts but also human needs,” Zela added.
The largest markets for wildlife products are mostly in Asia.
Studies from Switzerland-based international wildlife organisation, the World Wildlife Fund identified China, Thailand and Vietnam as destinations for global illegal wildlife trade.
“There are certain places in the world where wildlife trade is particularly threatening. These areas are called wildlife trade hotspots. They include China’s international borders, trade hubs in East/Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, the eastern borders of the European Union, some markets in Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, parts of Indonesia and New Guinea and the Solomon Islands,” says WWF.
“While these hotspots might be troubled areas at present, they also offer opportunities for great conservation success, if action and funds are well-focused. Wildlife trade alone is a major threat to some species, but its impact is frequently made worse by habitat loss and other pressures,” the organisation said.
According to a United States-based think tank, Global Financial Integrity, world wildlife trafficking generates up to US$23 billion in revenues each year.