Ivory trade to resume

Zimbabwe will be able to sell stockpiles of ivory to Japan, earning US $4-5 million for community development

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Ivory trade to resume

-- (Credit: Photographs: CITES)beginning March 1998, 20 metric tonnes of raw ivory will change hands between Zimbabwe and Japan. This is the first time in ten years that the trade will be legal, endorsed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ( cites ), the international body which implemented a ban on ivory trade in 1989. Proceeds of the sale are expected to benefit 1.2 million indigenous farmers, from whose community land the ivory has been derived. The decision to give Zimbabwe the go-ahead was taken by the standing committee of cites on February 11, 1999. It has also allowed Namibia to export 13.8 tonnes of ivory to Japan in a matter of weeks. Botswana will be allowed to do it subject to a new re-verification, which will take place in the next few weeks. But the chairperson of the standing committee will decide this on his own, without having to wait for a new standing committee.

"Our people are looking to determine how best to use these proceeds to enhance their living situation," said Steve Kasere, director of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources ( campfire ) Association of Zimbabwe. "At a time when the local economy is in a shambles and the inflation rate is running above 40 per cent, Zimbabwean department of natural parks and wildlife management ( dnpwm ) views this cash injection as a blessing for depressed rural communities," Kasere pointed out.

Part of the money will also supplement a us $70-million World Bank loan to the dnpwm for conservation efforts, such as water supply systems, aircraft for aerial surveillance, anti-poaching activities, and monitoring wildlife populations and habitats.

The committee agreed on a mechanism to halt trade and possibly re-list those elephant populations currently included in Appendix II (where regulated commercial trade is allowed) to Appendix I (where no commercial trade is allowed) if there is evidence of increased poaching or illegal trade.

Three southern African nations -- Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia -- were given the go-ahead to trade in elephant products at the 10th meeting of cites held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in June 1997. They were allowed exports of sport hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes, and exports of live elephants to appropriate and acceptable destinations after the meeting. But trade in ivory products was put off for 21 months, awaiting effective trade controls to avoid illegal trade and poaching in other elephant range states with smaller elephant populations. Approval of a working group of cites chaired by Norway was also awaited.

Based on field investigations conducted in 1998, a cites team of experts concluded that Zimbabwe has satisfied conditions such as anti-poaching measures and customs regulations, which are required to trade with Japan. Over the past 12 months, the dnpwm has tightened control over local ivory carvers, confiscated the licences of illegal exporters, and completed the computerisation of the ivory inventory to enable them to track ivory whereabouts, source and movements.

Elephant populations in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia had grown to about 150,000 since the 1989 ban, and the three countries felt the ban was unjustified. Overpopulation has lead to destruction of the home ranges of elephants, also leading to human-elephant conflicts.

Moreover, since the ban was introduced, African countries have had large stockpiles of ivory building up, some of which was confiscated and some extracted from animals that dies natural deaths. The countries wanted to use the ensuing funds from ivory sales for conservation, anti-poaching activities and rural development. Each of the three countries expects to earn us $4-5 million from the sale of their stockpiles.

The 1997 cites meeting had allocated an experimental quota for Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia for one importing nation: Japan. Other countries with existing stockpiles were asked to register them at the earliest to prevent the ivory from infiltrating into the legal trade, once it is resumed.

The human-elephant relationship in Africa is particularly complicated in areas of cultivation. While pastoralists living in the savannahs have tolerated elephants, farmers who occupy areas with higher rainfall and more intensive cultivation have not. Given that an adult elephants has a daily food intake of 230 kg, they do an enormous amount of damage.A 1997 World Wide Fund For Nature ( wwf ) report, Conserving Africa's Elephants: Current issues and priorities for action , pointed out that apart from the loss of food and productivity, there are also social costs which have to be taken into account, such as the loss of education for children who are too afraid to walk to school, the extra effort put in by women who must walk further to avoid elephants to collect firewood and water.
Head to head Deterrents, such as fences and thunder flashes, lights and gunshots, have been tried and they have failed. Most wildlife managers in Africa now believe that the key to finding a long-term solution is two-fold:

- To encourage land-use strategies to minimise the occurrence of conflict situations; and

- To ensure that in areas where humans and elephants do overlap, people derive tangible benefit from their presence.

Initial attempts to give compensation for damage was abandoned due to factors such as corruption, insufficient funds and an inability on the part of the central government to administer it. "The use-it-or-lose-it approach may not be popular in some conservation circles, but a more forgiving attitude towards wildlife is a luxury most Africans simply cannot afford," say campaigners of wwf International.

Pointing out that elephant management is costly and that extensive assistance from external donors is not yet forthcoming despite assurances, governments and local non-governmental organisations ( ngo s) say that trophy-hunting of elephants and ivory exports are the only way to raise the much-needed money.

Big game or trophy-hunting is already a means of generating income in Cameroon, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Botswana plans to re-open elephant trophy-hunting and the issue is being considered in Congo, Gabon and Mozambique. The countries register their annual trophy-hunting quotas with the cites secretariat and the ivory from these animals can be exported and imported legally for non-commercial use, provided it is accompanied by the cites documentation and there are no stricter domestic measures in the importing country.

In Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, national legislations allow for some of the revenue from trophy-hunting to return to local communities. In Tanzania, a license to shoot an elephant costs us $4,000. In Zimbabwe, a single elephant hunt can earn more than us $20,000. The number of elephants shot varies; in Tanzania, 154 out of a national estimated population of 56,000 were shot between 1988 and 1992. In Zimbabwe, the annual quota is set at about 200 animals per year out of a national population of about 60,000 animals.

More than 64 per cent of the revenue generated for campfire , the community-based programme in Zimbabwe, comes from elephant trophy-hunting. These revenues are used for community development needs and hunted animals provide meat for local consumption. License fees from trophy-hunting go to the government for conservation efforts. The hunting industry itself provides local employment.

The Indian delegation to cites in 1997 had strongly opposed the down-listing of the African elephant and the renewal of trade in ivory. They perceived this as a threat to the Asian elephant. Ashok Kumar of the Wildlife Protection Society of India claimed that ivory carvers in Japan prefer Asian ivory because it is stronger than African ivory. According to him, the price of Indian ivory has risen by 50 per cent in the past one year in anticipation of the lifting of the ban. Also, poaching incidents have gone up dramatically in India after domestic sale of ivory and its products was banned in 1986 (see graph: Dark side of ivory ).

But African ngo s say the decline in populations of the Asian elephant is due to improper management, and will not be affected by lifting the ban on ivory trade, particularly with the strict control measures that are to be followed when trade resumes. "We cannot wait for another 20 years for other range states to start managing their elephants properly," a community chief from Botswana had said in response to the Indian position. "Why should we suffer for their mismanagement?"

On paper, India has all the laws it needs for conservation of the Asian elephant. In 1991, through an amendment to the ban imposed in 1986, the import, carving and sale from African ivory was also banned to stop African ivory from serving as a cover for Asian ivory. India being a signatory to cites , the export or import of any form of ivory was already banned in 1976. But poaching cases have continued to increase over the years, regardless of the international ban.

Written by Anju Sharma

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