Four South African countries, fed up with a 32-year-old-ban on the sale of raw ivory, are spearheading an international lobby for a waiver that will allow them to raise money for economic development and wildlife conservation.
The four sit on ivory stockpiles worth a combined US$700 million.
“We have asked for global intervention from various co-operating partners to allow us to dispose of the ivory in our custody and we are having high level joint discussions and we are making progress to see how we can unlock these resources,” Mr Patrick Phiri, the Zambian Secretary for Tourism told The Southern Times this week.
“Tourism sectors in our countries have almost collapsed because its driven by tourists and if they don’t come, like has been the case lately, how do we as countries raise the resources and that is why we are talking with various players and looking up to CITES to review the ban.”
CITES banned the ivory trade in 1989 at a time the elephant population was in grave danger. However, improved conservation and tighter anti-poaching measures have seen the population in Southern Africa grow, with countries saying they now exceed their carrying capacity.
In 2019, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe wrote to CITES raising these concerns but were rebuffed.
This prompted Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo to at the time say: “If we are not allowed to trade we will not take part in CITES discussions on elephants. Our decision to sell ivory is not an emotional one. It is a scientific one backed by facts. At Independence in 1980 we had 40,000 elephants and the number has more than doubled and yet the land is not expanding.”
However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says the number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86 percent over a period of 31 years, while the population of African savannah elephants decreased by at least 60 percent in the last 50 years.
A 2019 assessment by the organisation says Africa is left with 415,000 elephants from 10 million in 1930. But about 87,000 of those are in Zimbabwe against the country’s carrying capacity of 55,000.
“We have 130 tonnes of ivory locked up while there are also 2,000 rhino horns that we cannot sell because of the ban effected through CITES. Our revenues are severely affected and this obviously will impact on our abilities to conduct conservation programmes,” Dr Fulton Mangwanya, the director-general of ZimParks told the media this week.
Safari Association of Zimbabwe president Dr Emmanuel Fundira added that the continued CITES ban was not based on any scientific research.
Reporting by Jeff Kapembwa in Lusaka & Leslie Chimbama in Harare