The Case for Namibia


Minister Pohamba Shifeta, Southern Times Africa

Date Published

As Namibia prepares for the upcoming seventeenth Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a proposal has been submitted seeking removal of an existing annotation to its elephant population.

The Namibia population of African elephants along with that of the other Southern African states of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe are listed in CITES Appendix II with annotations. These annotations in sub-paragraph (h) state that “no further proposals to allow trade in elephant ivory from populations already in Appendix II shall be submitted to the Conference of the Parties for the period from CoP14 and ending nine years from the date of the single sale of ivory, that taking place in accordance with provisions in paragraphs g) i), g) ii), g) iii), g) vi) and g) vii)”.

However, an examination of fauna listed on CITES Appendix II suggests that most of the annotations are ‘enabling’, permitting trade (constrained by quotas) in situations where the remainder of range States’ populations is listed on Appendix I (for example,. vicuña and crocodiles). Alternatively, the existing annotation for Loxodonta africana also listed in Appendix II is entirely different. The annotations of elephant populations listed in Appendix II are a list of prescriptions constraining trade in elephant specimens.

Therefore, Namibia with its proposal submitted for consideration at the seventeeth Conference of Parties, seeks the removal of the annotation in its entirety in respect of its elephant population.

Conservation and Threats

The Namibian elephant population is growing, as availability of habitat for elephants keeps increasing. As result of a conservation model applied by the country, enabling the expansion of the elephant population, we have seen our elephant population grow from just over 7,500 in 1995 to over 20,000 at present.

The involvement and empowerment of rural people in natural resource management, in combination with economic and financial incentives through sustainable use, and linked with skills development and capacity building, have been driving forces behind changes in attitudes towards wildlife on communally-owned land in Namibia. In parts of the elephant range outside protected areas, wildlife numbers have increased dramatically.

The biggest potential long-term threat to the Namibian elephant population is the loss of habitat and the fragmentation of range through the interruption of access routes and conflicts with people in the absence of effective incentive mechanisms to maintain such habitat.

Elephants, through their negative impacts on subsistence agriculture and absolute dependence on water resources under the control of people, can easily be excluded from large parts of Namibia outside protected areas. Without a way of benefiting from elephants, the species can be regarded as a liability and economic cost to rural communities, who suffer crop losses, other damages and lose human lives to elephants.

The most effective strategy to prevent this displacement is to integrate elephants into rural economies, as assets and to demonstrate that elephants contribute to the welfare and development of people.

Controlled trade in ivory and other elephant specimens, in addition to other direct and indirect forms of economic use of elephants, is therefore in the best interest of the Namibian elephant population. Controlled trade will help to ensure continued access to land outside protected areas by providing strong incentives to communities to protect elephants and their habitat. By contrast, law enforcement alone, without associated incentives, does not provide long-term security from displacement by other forms of land use.

The Namibian proposal wishes to establish a regular form of controlled trade in all elephant specimens, including ivory, in support of elephant conservation, including community-based conservation and the maintenance of elephant habitat. Revenue from regulated trade will, as has been done previously, be managed through a trust fund and used exclusively for elephant conservation and community conservation and development programmes within the elephant range.

Commitment to Elephants

In 1999 and 2008, Namibia fully complied with every requirement imposed by the Conference of the Parties, the Standing Committee and the CITES Secretariat concerning the trade in raw ivory. Resultantly, we contributed to the development of a rigorous international trade control system for raw ivory and successfully exported raw ivory in 1999 and 2008 within that system. These export trades were successful in all respects, and were conducted transparently and under intense international supervision. It was demonstrated that all necessary trade controls are in place.

Equally, Namibia demonstrated that it has a functional trust fund under parliamentary supervision for the distribution of trade revenues, all of which are earmarked for conservation. The implementation of Decision 10.1 proved that, with adequate controls and strict enforcement measures, ivory can be traded legally, in such a way as to prevent any ivory other than registered legal stocks from entering such legal trade. While, Namibia has complied with every requirement of CITES concerning the conservation of the African elephant and continues to exercise strict control over all ivory stocks, it remains concerned by the high costs and security implications of holding large ivory stocks. Ivory continues to accumulate, primarily through natural mortalities. Bearing the dry climate of Namibia, it is virtually impossible to maintain ivory quality without incurring huge expenditures. Moreover, Namibia has reported all information on ivory stocks, seizures and quotas and the implementation of the MIKE monitoring system now in its 16th year.

Having done its utmost, and at a great cost, the country must be allowed to make use of the mechanisms provided in CITES to exercise its rights as a Party to the Convention. These rights include trade in its elephant population, which clearly meets the criteria for inclusion in Appendix II, within the framework of the Convention for trade in specimens from Appendix-II-listed species.

In disregard of the remedial mechanisms within CITES concerning cases of unsustainable trade in Appendix-II-listed species, such as the significant trade process or the transfer of a population to Appendix I, the Conference of the Parties has on previous occasions imposed increasingly complex requirements for trade in elephant specimens that have all but ensured that such trade does not take place. Namibia believes that this trend strongly undermines the credibility of CITES and highlights the contradictions between CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Namibia will strongly seek the removal of the annotation to allow a form of controlled ivory trade, accordingly with Appendix II listing of its elephant population. This is in the best interest of conservation of the species through improving incentives that ensures that more land is made available for the species conservation.

*Shifeta is Namibia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism