Mmegi/The Reporter (Gaborone)

Botswana: Cites Conference to Review Ivory Trade Ban

Geneva — Botswana has to wait for the next conference of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2007 to know whether it will be allowed to sell its ivory stockpiles.

"The next conference will review whether to sell the elephants or whether there is any need to cull the elephants and plough back the money into park development," Aniket Ghai, coordinator of Geneva Environment Network said in Geneva last week.

Ghai was speaking to a group of journalists from select SADC countries invited by the Swiss government at International Environment House in Geneva. He pointed out to the difficulties of trading, as illegal traders will always find some space to deal in elephant tusks. "The problem is that if you allow the sale of ivory, poachers and illegal trade will find their way into the trade by producing counterfeit stamps that look like legal ones," he said. "The idea is not to create a red tape and ban trade at all, but the concern is for illegal trade. It is important for governments to control trade and not individuals who are looking for a quick buck," he added. He explained that the idea is to make the system as transparent as possible.

Sale and trade in elephants and related products have been banned by CITES because the animal is classified as an endangered species. But Botswana and other countries with excess elephant population have been pressing to be allowed to sell their ivory stockpiles and cull the animals saying that their high numbers are a threat to the environment. In previous conferences, Botswana, together with Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe made proposals to CITES to be allowed to trade in ivory. In the proposals, the countries asked for permission to export 13 metric tons of ivory annually.

However, CITES with support from certain countries and environmental groups have not welcomed the proposals on the grounds that allowing trade in ivory would open the floodgates for the black market.

In the 2002 conference, Botswana made a proposal to CITES to export 20 metric tons of ivory. A recent IUCN report has revealed that Botswana has one of the largest elephant population herds in the region. The elephants, numbering over 120,000 are found in the Tuli Block and Chobe areas. It is estimated that in 1989, about 90 percent of the international ivory trade was illegal. A global ban in ivory trade was put in place in 1989.

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