South Africa claims elephants are safe because of ivory auctions


Colin Bell, Wildlife News

Date Published
Addressing a crowd at a ceremony to sign an anti-poaching agreement between South Africa and Mozambique in the Kruger National Park this April, Edna Molewa, South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, mentioned in a speech signifying her departments move toward a possible trade in rhino horn, that “we do think that it could (win the war on rhino poaching)… just taking it from the lessons we have learnt from ivory. We did an ivory once-off sale and elephant poaching has not been a problem since.”

Despite widespread international investigations proving the opposite (it is widely held that the once-off sale of a large stockpile of ivory by Southern Africa to China and Japan in 2008 fuelled the demand for ivory and increased poaching), it appears the numerous reports, articles, videos and papers investigating the failures of the 2008 ivory sale, which are published widely and available across the internet, have not have reached the desk of South Africa’s Environmental Affairs minister.

Evidence of escalating elephant poaching numbers in Africa since the 2008 sale are available in a CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) report titled Elephants in The Dust, The African Elephant Crisis. Contrary to Minister Molewa’s beliefs, large-scale seizures of ivory (consignments of over 800 kg) destined for Asia have more than doubled since 2009. It is estimated that upwards of 30,000 elephants were illegally killed last year alone. This is a significant increase from the estimated 22 000 elephants that were killed in 2012, according to MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

The bureaucratic failings of that once off sale, which was intended to flood the market with inexpensive ivory and abate the tide of poaching in Africa have been ignored by the Department of Environmental Affairs but are well documented in Blood Ivory, Exposing the Risk of A Regulated Market, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency whose findings expose that ivory, which was bought for an average of US$157 per kilo from the Southern African states in 2008, was sold on by the Chinese government to traders for as much as US$1 500 per kilo, nullifying any attempt by South Africa to flood the Asian market.

Minister Molewa’s statement implies that there is a fracture between the information that is widely available to the general public and that made available to her department. As the CITES Conference of the Parties 2016 meeting approaches, there is a concern as to whether the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, who will represent the interests of South Africa and her environment, will really be making informed decisions about the future of rhinos and elephants, considering what the history books indicate.

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Colin Bell is a tourism professional with 35 years of experience and co-author of “Africa’s Finest” a book on the good, the bad and the ugly of the tourism industry ( His operations have successfully re-introduced rhino into the wilds of Botswana and pioneered sustainable partnerships with rural communities in Namibia that ensure that rhino thrive outside of protected areas.

This report was provided by Conservation Action Trust.