Zambia stuck with $100m ivory …. wants CITES trade ban lifted


Jeff Kapembwa, Southern Times Africa

Date Published

Lusaka -The worldwide ban on the trade of both legal and illegally acquired ivory has left Zambia stuck with more than 52 tonnes of both legal and illegal ivory worth over US$100 million because of the worldwide trade ban of the commodity.

According to government data, if Zambia was allowed to trade all its raw ivory, it would have realised an average US$2,500 a kilogramme from an initial US$750 a kilogramme the commodity was initially fetching before the ban was imposed.

This money could be used to quell escalating poaching in the country, with China being the main market of the poached ivory.

Charles Banda, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism and Arts argues that the imposition or restriction on the sale of the ivory has deprived Zambia of revenue as the country was still stuck with piles of the commodity which cannot be sold or traded until the ban is lifted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

CITES is an international agreement between governments with the aim of ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

According to Banda,  Zambia is stuck with the commodity in view of the ban and the ggovernment is yet to make a decision on how to dispose of the commodity in its possession after acquiring it from elephants that were either poached or had died on their own.

Banda said 27.2 tonnes of the total 53.2 tonnes were legally collected while 26 tonnes were confiscated from poachers who were arrested in the illegal act before the ban was imposed, adding that unless an urgent action was taken by relevant authorities to lift the ban the country would continue losing out on revenue because of the tonnage of ivory in its possession.

“We have plenty of it at our warehouses, some of it legal and others confiscated from poachers….we are hoping either government will discuss with other governments that might need the ivory so that we can realise some revenue or if all fails, we might have to burn it altogether although it would be a loss on our part to burn it completely,” Banda added.

Banda is, however, cognisant that while the ban remains in place and could not compel other countries to acquire the ivory in its possession, the onus remains on the government through the cabinet to urgently make a decision on what should be done to the commodity with the worldwide ban in place.

“We as Zambia are currently engaging the international community and relevant authorities on what we can ultimately do with the ivory since the ban may probably not be lifted soon.”

According to Banda, Zambia is not the only country stuck with piles of ivory in its possession and that the ban has left many states in a complicated situation and is hoping for a solution to be found soon.

Data indicates that the price of ivory taken from African elephants slaughtered for their tusks had tripled in the past four years in China which is the world’s biggest market. Since the ban was slapped  in the early 1990s on the sale of the elephant ivory, there has been several attempts by various countries chiefly in Africa to seek the authority to have the ban lifted.

In or around 1990s, a group of Southern African countries had supported Hong Kong and Japanese ivory traders to maintain trade as these countries claimed to have well-managed elephant populations and they needed the revenue from ivory sales to fund conservation.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland, among others, had voted against the Appendix One listing and actively worked to reverse the decision.  The two countries leading the attempt to overturn the ban immediately after it was agreed were South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to data.

South Africa had argued  that its elephants were well managed and were not seriously challenged. However, its role in the illegal ivory trade and slaughter of elephants in neighbouring countries was exposed in numerous news articles of the time, as part of its policy of destabilisation of its neighbours.

It  was argued that 95 percent of South Africa’s elephants were found in Kruger National Park which was partly run by the South African Defence Force (SADF) which allegedly trained, supplied and equipped the rebel Mozambique army Renamo which was heavily implicated in large-scale ivory poaching to finance its army.

Zimbabwe had earlier embraced “sustainable” use policies of its wildlife, seen by some governments and the WWF as a pattern for future conservation. Conservationists and biologists hailed Zimbabwe’s Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) as a template for community empowerment in conservation.

The government argued the ivory trade would fund conservation efforts, but revenues were instead returned to the central treasury.

However, Southern African countries have continued to attempt to sell ivory through legal systems. In an appeal to overcome national interests, a group of eminent elephant scientists responded with an open letter in 2002 which clearly explained the effects of the ivory trade on other countries.

Southern African countries have continued to push for international ivory trade. Led by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, they have had some success through CITES.

In 2008, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were granted a once-off sale of ivory by CITES to China and Japan on condition that no country proposed selling ivory again for at least nine years.

However, their request to be allowed to trade in ivory again was through out by CITES at its meeting in South Africa last year.

In their proposal last year, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa had insisted on creating a decision-making mechanism (DMM) “for a process of future trade in elephant ivory”.

In the DMM ivory proposal, governments rather than a single corporate interest, would have been allowed to operate as stakeholders, and the central selling entity would report to CITES parties.

Ivory has been traded for hundreds of years by people in regions such as Greenland, Alaska, and Siberia. The trade, in more recent times, has led to endangerment of species, resulting in restrictions and bans.

Ivory was formerly used to make piano keys and other decorative items because of the white colour it presents when processed but the piano industry abandoned ivory as a key covering material in the 1970s.

In 1979, the African elephant population was estimated to be around 1.3 million in 37 states but by 1989, only 600,000 remained. Although many ivory traders repeatedly claimed that the problem was habitat loss, it became glaringly clear that the threat was primarily the international ivory trade.

Throughout this decade, around 75,000 African elephants were killed for the ivory trade annually, worth around 1 billion dollars. About 80% of this was estimated to come from illegally killed elephants, according to data.