Southern Africa: Jumbo-Sized Blow for SADC Ivory Trade Push

11 November 2019
opinion

A worldwide offensive by SADC countries to push for ivory trade hit a brick wall after UK antique dealers failed in an attempt to overturn a total ban on ivory trading in a case heard in a High Court there recently.

According to media reports filtering from the UK, last month a small number of antique dealers challenged the ban in the High Court, arguing that sales of "cultural heritage" objects had no impact on the market for what was reported as "illegally plundered tusks".

A UK High Court ruled that a ban on ivory trading being introduced by the government did not breach European laws.

Wildlife conservation groups argued that any dilution of the ban would make elephant poaching rampant.

This massive drive to shut down ivory trade worldwide will soon leave Southern African elephant rangeland countries with virtually no markets to sell their ivory.

"The 2018 Ivory Act, which attracted cross-party support, has yet to come into force. It criminalises trade in all ivory artefacts with a few artistic exemptions. The prohibition was championed by the former environment secretary Michael Gove, who pledged to introduce "one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations," a UK-based publication reported.

The claim was said to have been brought in the name of a newly formed company, Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (Fact), with funds having been channelled through the British Antique Dealers' Association (Bada).

The dealers said the ban undermined the European convention on human rights by interfering with individuals' property rights.

At a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) conference which was held in Geneva in August, member states failed to agree on proposals to reopen trade in registered raw ivory.

The vote loss at the conference means most SADC countries will remain stuck with hundreds of tonnes of unsold ivory.

Had controlled trade been permitted, the countries could have generated revenue that could support animal welfare and protection.

Southern African nations including Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia have for years been battling the global wildlife trade regulator to grant them rights to sell ivory acquired through natural deaths, confiscations and culling.

The countries are home to the world's largest elephant population.

The big herds, faced with shrinking forest cover and human encroachment of their corridors, venture into human settlements looking for food and attack those who try to stop them.

This has led to the unending human-wildlife conflict among local communities living in areas adjacent to game sanctuaries.

Zimbabwe and most other SADC countries have not benefited substantially from the wildlife resource due to Cites ban on ivory trade.

Zimbabwe and most other Sadc countries are sitting on tonnes of ivory which they cannot dispose of owing to a Cites ban.

The country is sitting on ivory and rhino horn stockpiles worth US$600 million.

"We are gravely concerned by one-size-fits-all approach where banning of trade is creeping into the Cites decision-making processes," President Mnangagwa said as he opened the inaugural African Union and United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls in June this year.

"We call upon the institution to resist the temptation of being a 'policing institution' and instead be developmental one which promotes the intricate balance between conservation and sustainable utilisation of all wildlife resources."

Southern Africa is home to half of Africa's elephants and Zimbabwe's population of more than 84 000 against a carrying capacity of 40 000, is only second to that of Botswana in the world.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and many other animal rights groups have been on a global drive to shut down all Asian ivory markets as well as pushing the US and European countries to impose a total ban on ivory trade.

For decades debate over sale of ivory from African elephants has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side-by-side with these large and potentially dangerous animals versus concerns that such sales may encourage poaching.

The fight has mainly been between those countries that have sizeable populations of elephants and want to ensure sustainable use and those countries that have already decimated their elephant populations.

Most Southern African countries which include Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa have always supported the proposal to review of the ban on trade in ivory.

Sadc countries often stand nearly alone in opposing the destruction of illegal ivory stockpiles and a total ban on ivory trade among a slew of measures widely believed to combat poaching. Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa benefited from their stockpiles in 2008 when Cites approved a once-off ivory sale to China and Japan.

Other sales in these countries took place in 1999 and 2008 and earned some US$20 million for elephant conservation and community development programmes in and around the elephant range areas.

Zimbabwe and some Sadc countries are concerned about the negative consequences of a ban in trophy hunting, ivory trade and destruction of stockpiles.

They argue that a total ban on trophy hunting and destroying ivory increases its scarcity and drives demand. They say when ivory gets more valuable, poaching intensifies.

"As Zimbabwe, we need support from the global community to be allowed to trade in ivory so that we can use the money generated to support the management of our wildlife sanctuaries and, more importantly, to improve the livelihoods of communities living adjacent to game parks," said an environmentalist with an international NGO that supports rural communities where the human-wildlife conflict is rampant.

"Burning ivory and banning ivory trade totally will not help us. Burning ivory, like Kenya and many other countries were doing, won't help us and it won't bring anything to us."

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