Pachyderm dilemma

Zimbabwe, which is hosting the June convention on endangered species, is fighting for right to controlled trade in ivory

By Tonderai Matonho
Published: Friday 28 February 1997

Ivory fare: the lure of this w amidst preparations for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (cites) conference in Zimbabwe this June, the host country has been alleged to have allowed proliferation of commercial trade in ivory in violation of its own policy and the international ban on such trade. A Switzerland-based cites report released recently states that large quantities of raw, semi-worked and polished ivory worth millions of dollars have been exported to the Far East, the us and South Africa.

Some of these shipments were very large and included a single shipment of ivory seals valued at us $90,000, which had been carved from tusks, originally weighing 663 kg. But officials from Zimbabwe's department of national parks and wildlife management have strongly denied knowledge of this trade.

Notwithstanding the allegations, Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa like Botswana and Namibia, which also have abundant elephant populations, are seriously lobbying to fight for controlled commercial trade in ivory and elephant hide.

While cites has placed the African elephant under Appendix one, which includes the most endangered species which cannot be killed, southern African countries want the elephant under Appendix two, which would permit limited culling and sale of elephant products. Before the ban, the trade in ivory and elephant hide accounted for 28 per cent of the annual income of Zimbabwe's department of national parks and wildlife management.

Some southern African countries, with Zimbabwe in the lead, are bracing themselves to counter the lobbying tactics of Western animal rights organisations which are trying to influence other southern African countries to support the cites ban. South Africa, apparently the strongest and wealthiest country in the region, may have given in to these tactics. Its national parks board has signed a 'strings-attached' contract with the us-based International Fund for Animal Welfare. Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe -- as members of the Southern Africa Convention on Wildlife Management -- are anxious to know South Africa's position on the ban. These countries are lobbying with other African and Western countries to remove the elephant from cites' Appendix one on the grounds that this will not save the animal from extinction, but will reduce it to the status of a dangerous pest.

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