Gaborone — The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has rejected proposals submitted by five SADC member states, among them Botswana.
Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, which have high elephant populations, had submitted a joint proposal to trade in tonnes of stockpiled ivory but were defeated by 101 (81 per cent) votes getting only 22 votes (19 per cent) in support.
The three countries contribute more than 70 per cent of the world's total elephant population.
Zambia lost in its amended bid to have its elephant population down-listed from CITES Appendix I to II for only non-commercial hunting trophies and hides as well as leather from elephants killed in elephant-human conflict without trade in raw ivory.
Another SADC member state, eSwatini, also lost its bid to trade in live rhino horns.
Speaking in an interview from Geneva, Switzerland at the ongoing CITES conference, Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism, Mr Kitso Mokaila said the heavy losses collectively suffered by SADC countries were suspicious.
The losses, he said, showed that CITES had lost credibility because it was bowing to pressure from animal rights groups adding that the voting process was not based on scientific evidence.
He said going forward there might be need for the affected countries to strategise and weigh other options.
"We may declare a dispute at the Hague because during the 14th CITES Conference of Parties held in The Hague, Netherlands, the four range states whose elephant populations were on Appendix II accepted a compromise which saw them reluctantly agreeing to refrain from submitting any proposals to allow trade in elephant ivory to the Conference of Parties for a period of nine years from the date of the single sale of ivory," he said.
Mr Mokaila said the rejection was a draw back since the nine years moratorium was meant to devise a new mechanism for selling clean ivory.
"We are now back to square one. That mechanism is not there and as SADC we had a legitimate expectation to sell clean ivory. What did we get from the long years of wait? A denial and a total rejection.
This is the feedback we are receiving from CITES that our patience and wait will not account for much after all.
While the last decade may not have seen any positive action on a subject of great importance to us, the challenges posed by the burgeoning elephant populations in our region continue to escalate," he lamented.
Meanwhile Minister Mokaila has appealed to Batswana to remain calm following rejection of the country's proposal.
He urged them not lose hope in the aftermath of the CITES debacle.
"We find ourselves in this devastating and complicated situation, but we will engage our leadership on the way forward," he said.
He called on Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) not to lose hope in their people-centred conservation strategies of sustainable utilisation of natural resources.
"There are various ways they may continue to benefit in tourism, through hunting, and selling ivory. But now CITES is minimising the streams they may use to benefit and they may revolt.
That is where the frustration is coming from because these animals continue to compete for fertile land, communal grazing land and take people' lives. There is a huge conflict before us as Botswana," he said.