FIVE southern African countries, including Namibia, have called on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to lift the ban on ivory trade.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) imposed the ban in 1989 to reverse a sharp decline in the African elephant population, purportedly due to increased levels of poaching.
During a meeting held at Kasane in Botswana from Friday last week to this week Tuesday, the leaders whose countries constitute the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza-TFCA) resolved to submit proposals to Cites to lift the ban. Five countries - Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe - constitute the Kaza-TFCA.
The first-of-its-kind summit was convened under the theme 'Towards a Common Vision for the Management of Southern Africa's Elephant', and aimed at finding common ground and a shared vision towards the sustainable management of the African elephant in Kaza-TFCA countries.
At the meeting, Southern African Development Community chair Hage Geingob called upon the member countries to find appropriate strategies for managing the growing population of the African elephant.
He said in Namibia alone, the elephant population increased from 7 500 to 24 000 between 1995 and 2019. Although he celebrated the growth as a conservation success, he also acknowledged the challenges it poses.
"[A] problem area is [loss of habitat] and rising incidents of human-elephant conflict. We are aware that these challenges are not unique to Namibia and exist within all member states", he added.
Geingob advocated the controlled legal trade of ivory, noting that there are concerns over the cost and security of holding on to large ivory stocks.
"Namibia continues to exercise strict control over ivory stocks. However, stocks continue to accumulate by an average of 4,5% per annum, primarily through natural mortalities," he said.
Geingob, along with Botswana president Mokgweetsi Masisi, touted the region's conservation success and prodded Western countries that have in the past criticised the Kaza-TFCA countries for their conservation programmes, saying they could learn from them.
"I support Kaza's efforts on elephants. We should not be victims of our success in conservation, and the West must humble itself and learn conservation from us, instead of lecturing us on what to do," he said in his closing remarks at the summit.
"We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants," Masisi stated.
"It is not by accident that our region is home to the largest population of elephants, and our conservation and management practices and successes are world-class, and we should not be shy to proclaim this publicly."
Furthermore, Geingob detailed how a controlled legal trade strategy could also be beneficial to the conservation efforts and rural communities.
"[We] reiterate our favourable stance towards the legal international trade of ivory, from which proceeds would be utilised to support elephant conservation and rural conservation programmes," he said. "The conservation and sustainable management of our natural resources remain key markets in rekindling economic growth and job creation."
Presidential press secretary Alfredo Hengari pointed out that the highlight of the summit was the praise Namibia got for its conservation efforts from other countries.
"Namibia was lauded for successes in community-based natural resource management and its sustainable way of conservation. We were singled out as a model", he said.
A statement published by the Botswana government yesterday detailed that the Kaza partners also resolved to harmonise the management of elephants, provide for integrated land use planning, standardise approaches for ivory stockpiles management, and create incentives for communities to continue tolerating and coexisting with elephants.
Furthermore, the countries said they would improve regional collaboration on wildlife crime by implementing the SADC law- enforcement and anti-poaching strategy.