Herald/allAfrica

OPINION 

Botswana’s support for the on-going ban on international trade in ivory has not eliminated elephant poaching. The recent discovery by an environmental group, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), that 90 elephants had been poached in recent months, seems proof enough that the policy has not worked.

All this, is in spite of the fact that the government has described the reports as unsubstantiated and sensational. It categorically denied them. “At no point in the last months or recently were 87 or 90 elephants killed in one incident in any place in Botswana

“To this end, the Government of Botswana wishes to inform members of the public and other key stakeholders that these statistics are false and misleading,” the government statement noted.

Now the question becomes, “When will the Government of Botswana rejoin Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and other SADC countries in support of controlled and sustainable international trade in ivory?”

It should be soon. With its huge elephant population, Botswana would undoubtedly benefit from sustainable ivory trade. Money now flowing to poachers could be instead get devoted to better conservation, tourism, and economic development programmes. The profitability of poaching evaporates when markets have a sufficient, consistent but controlled ivory supply. Prices stabilise when the uncertain costs of smuggling and bribery are eliminated.

Once rural communities neigbouring Botswana’s protected areas begin to appreciate the benefits of co-existing and conserving wildlife they will no longer collaborate with, but fight against elephant poachers. Additionally, the re-opening of elephant trophy hunting would help to keep Botswana’s elephant population within the carrying capacity of the ecosystems of different protected areas in which they exist.

Currently, Botswana is faced with an elephant overpopulation problem that threatens both the elephants and their ecosystems. The elephant ecosystems can no longer provide enough food and water for them. The end result of this inevitable pattern would be disastrous – both ecosystem and elephant population collapse. This threat is real, Botswana’s authorities need to heed this danger.

Meanwhile, very well-placed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said that other SADC countries are now considering issuing a Declaration of Intent that states that future policies of CITES found to be unfavourable to a country’s best interests will be rejected.

The continued ban on ivory trade is one of the CITES policies that these countries indicate are against their best interests. Botswana is part of SADC and ought to issue this Declaration as well, particularly in light of the fact that Gaborone is the seat of the SADC Secretariat.

Taking such a principled and courageous action would gain worldwide recognition for the new government of Botswana as CITES member countries meet for a Standing Committee meeting in Sochi, Russia next month. It would help Botswana do a bit of damage control over the recent CNN elephant poaching news report in which an environmental NGO, EWB, claimed that 87 elephants had been poached in Botswana in recent months.

Later in the week, the National Geographic published a report in which the Botswana government disputed the number of poached elephants. The Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks said that the EWB’s Dr Mike Chase had issued a “false and misleading” statement. The Botswana government statement said that only 53 dead elephants had been counted and many of them had died from natural causes.