Wildlife & Biodiversity

Ahead of CITES CoP18, Botswana tries to lift ban on ivory trade

It is trying to mobilise other Southern African countries to come to a common consensus on how to deal with the rising population of elephants

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Thursday 09 May 2019

Ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 18th Conference of Parties (CoP), Botswana — the country with the highest elephant population in the world — is trying to mobilise Southern African countries to come to a common consensus on how to deal with the rising population of elephants.

The country organised a five-day conference, Towards a Common Vision in Managing Southern Africa’s Elephants, held from May 3, 2019. It was attended by Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe apart from the host country.

The number of elephants in Botswana has increased from 55,000 in 1991 to 160,000 in 2019, which has increased human-animal conflict. The elephants often destroy crops and kill villagers and farmers, according to Kitso Mokaila, Environment and Tourism Minister of Botswana.

“People lose lives, crops and agricultural infrastructure and other property which are destroyed by elephants. This cannot be tolerated and it will be a failure on our part if we don’t address this state of affairs,” Mokaila was quoted as saying.

Apart from dealing with the human-animal conflict, the lucrative ivory trade is also at stake here. Botswana has moved a proposal to be discussed in the upcoming CITES CoP to legalise ivory trade.

The CoP, which was slated to be held in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo from May 23-June 3, has been postponed indefinitely on account of security concerns after the Easter bombings.    

While most elephant populations of Africa are listed in Appendix I which forbids all commercial trade, the elephant populations of southern African countries like Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe and South Africa are listed on Appendix II of CITES.

Although trade in species listed in Appendix II can take place through a permit system, in case of African Elephants, the trade quota is kept at zero, essentially banning any trade.

CITES had banned international commercial ivory trade in 1989. Then, in 1997, recognising that some southern African elephant populations are healthy and well-managed, it permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale of ivory to Japan totaling 50 tonnes.

The sales took place in 1999 at a price of around $5 million. Following this, requests to allow ivory sale increased, but never accepted by CITES, as the sale led to an increase in elephant poaching.

“The majority of African elephant range states are opposed to the international ivory trade. However, southern African states have consistently tried to get the Parties to CITES to allow international trade in ivory arguing that their populations of elephants are relatively secure. This stance has little regard for the consequences of such trade to elephant populations in other countries, including Asian elephant range states," says Avinash Basker, head (legal programme), Wildlife Protection Society of India.

“Elephant poaching has also become a threat to what were previously considered safe populations in southern Africa. Studies of the markets in consumer states such as Japan and China have shown that their regulations are not sufficient to prevent the laundering of illegal ivory as legal," said Basker, who has attended CITES meetings since 2010.

"Instead of debating whether to permit international trade in ivory, the focus should be on closing down legal domestic markets for ivory which exist in several countries. Until this happens, there is no global ivory trade ban in any meaningful sense,” he added.

According to the African Elephant Status Report (AESR) 2015 by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there has been a decline of 68 per cent in African elephant population in the last 36 years. In just 9 years, between 2006 and 2015, the AESR calculated a loss of approximately 111,000 elephants.

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