Southern Africa: Namibia Threatens Divorce From Wildlife Treaty

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Namibia and Botswana have threatened to withdraw from the international wildlife treaty after a proposal to allow for the hunting and trade of the white rhino was rejected by the convention.

Namibia made its proposal at the just-ended 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The ministers of environment from the two countries did not take kindly to the rejection by Cites of the proposal, stating that there is no need to be party to the treaty if it frustrates their region's conservation efforts.

Namibia proposed to have its southern white rhino downlisted from an Appendix I classification to Appendix II, with an annotation to allow the international trade of live rhinos and trophy hunting of the species.

Animals under Appendix I are listed as species threatened with extinction, and trade in their products is only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

Trade in animal products under Appendix II is allowed, but must be controlled to avoid use that is incompatible with the animal's survival. These species are not necessarily threatened with extinction.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta yesterday argued at the closing of the convention that Namibia's white rhino population is healthy, and therefore does not constitute one 'threatened with extinction'.

"There are some views that Namibia's [white rhino] population is still small, which we contested. Namibia's [rhino] population is the second-largest in the world," he added.

Furthermore, the minister bashed some of the countries who voted against the proposal, stating that their views are not based on science.

"Instead of applying science, they are politicising the whole matter," he said.

Pohamba asserted that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will convene a meeting soon after the convention to further discuss the merits on which Namibia and other SADC countries' proposals were rejected, as well as reconsider their Cites membership.

"We will consider our position in Cites because if [it] does not really help us to conserve our wild animals, but frustrates those that are doing good, then I think there is no need for us to stay in Cites," he continued.

Botswana's minister of environment, Onkokame Kitso Mokalia, also expressed disappointment at the closing of the event in what he called a "shocking outcome that has no link to the reality on the ground".

"I think people divorce from the harsh reality, [which] is very simple: we've got climate change issues, we have an increasing wildlife population, increasing human population, shrinking fertile and productive land, we have to produce food; we have a shortage of water," he added.

Sharing Shifeta's sentiments, Mokalia said SADC should not submit to countries who do not even have rhino populations in their regions.

The minister expressed disappointment that these countries neglect to consider southern African economies in their decision- making, and the region's efforts towards its sustainable development goals. Furthermore, he said the decision lacks a scientific basis.

"Yet we come and sit here, and argue with people who don't even have a single elephant or single rhino ... then you start to wonder, is Cites worth it? I think Cites has long passed its sell-by date," stressed Mokalia.

Stating that the objective is not to have the region divorce itself from conservation, he said withdrawing from Cites will provide an opportunity for SADC to prove that their model works.

"We are here listening to NGO emotions, telling some of our African countries what to do at the promise of 'we will help you'. We don't need help," he added.

Speaking on behalf of SADC in his capacity as the region's chairperson, Tanzanian president John Magufuli said the multilateral treaty is currently operating contrary to its founding principles.

He stated that Cites discards proven, working conservation models in favour of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models, which fuel the unfounded belief that all trade fuels illegal and unsustainable trade.

"We believe this failure has arisen from the domination of protectionist ideology over science in decision-making within Cites," he said.

He added that countries vote without accountability as they bear no cost or consequence, and also accused some countries of basing their position on national political considerations rather than conservation strategies.

Magufuli said the countries have reached an impasse, at which they have to reconsider whether there is any meaningful benefits to their membership.

"We can no longer ignore these glaring shortcomings and threats to our national interests and to our commitments to the broader multilateral context," he said.

The Cites convention ran from 17 to 28 August.

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