Southern African countries are pushing for the lifting of a global ban on sales of ivory in a bid to address human-wildlife conflict caused by bigger herds.
Leaders from six countries in the region who attended a summit in Botswana on Tuesday resolved to lobby the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) to lift the embargo.
They are advocating for the relaxation of the trade ban to a strictly-controlled form of business.
Zimbabwe will next month host the inaugural African Union/United Nations Wildlife summit which the countries that are part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) want to use to mobilise support for an end to the 30 year-old ban on ivory trade.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the summit the CITES’ “one size fits all “policy on ivory trade must be rejected by African countries.
He said the countries namely Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are saddled with huge stockpiles of ivory, which they want to sell to raise funds for conservation and anti-poaching programmes.
“As we approach CITES let us resolutely affirm our collective position on sustainable elephant conservation management,” he said.
“Let us boldly speak with one voice, in the best interest of our communities.
“This one-size fits-all banning of everything under CITES disregarding the good efforts and investments by our respective governments is neither sustainable nor desirable,” Mr Mnangagwa said.
The next Cites meeting will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in October this year after it was pushed from the initial May 23 date following last month's Easter Sunday bombings that killed 257 people.
Southern Africa's position on controlled trade in ivory has often been at loggerheads with that in other African countries led by Kenya which fear that in the absence of reliable tracking systems, it would open doors to poaching and illegal trade in other countries.
Kenya has on a number of occasions burned its ivory stockpile in symbolic display of its opposition to such trade.
China, which has traditionally been the key market for trade in ivory, its products and other animal trophies also banned trade in them in January last year.
Despite the ban, however, China’s customs administration said last month it seized more than 500 tonnes of smuggled endangered animal and plant products in 2019 alone, including 8.48 tonnes of ivory.
In the seizures were 2,748 smuggled ivory tusks - weighing 7.48 tonnes - in March, the largest smuggling cases the country has seen so far this year.
According to China's General Administration of Customs’ (GACC) anti-smuggling department director Sun Zhijie pangolin scales, rhinoceros horns, totoaba swim bladders and parrot eggs.
That illegal activities evident in the seizures, including across ports in Africa, continues with the ban has raised questions on what would happen under a relaxed regime.
This does not, however, negate Southern Africa concerns on the reality of increasing human-wildlife conflict as settlement encroaches on conservation areas with population pressure.
Botswana Environment and Tourism minister Kitso Mokaila said the rising number of elephants was now a threat to farming activities.
‘People lose lives, crops and agricultural infrastructure and other property, which are destroyed by elephants,” Mr Mokaila said in a speech ahead of the summit.
“This cannot be tolerated and it will be a failure on our part if we don’t address this state of affairs.”
Mr Mokaila said Western media African countries always invited a “backlash” fuelled by Western media whenever they tried to control their elephant populations.
“It is my fervent desire that we continue to speak with one voice when it comes to our regional elephants,” he said.
“It is evident that our arguments for sustainable utilisation of our wildlife resources, which we have in abundance, are being countered on multiple fronts.”
The KAZA range, which combines national parks in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia is home to 415 428 elephants, three quarters of the jumbos found in Africa.
Botswana alone has a population of more than 130,000 elephants and four years ago the country imposed a ban on hunting of the animals.
It is having second thoughts in favour of the position in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe which only allow elephant hunting to support conservation efforts.
Mr Mnangagwa said southern African countries must be rewarded for their successful elephant conservation methods.
“Elephants are arguably a symbol of success in conservation strategies in our region and a key draw card to our tourism industry,” he told delegates at the summit.
“The savannah elephants, which are predominantly found in Southern Africa, constitute approximately 50 per cent of the continent’s elephant species.
“This bears testimony to our region’s success in championing sustainable conservation programmes that are expanding the elephant habitat.”
A report by the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants revealed that Africa recorded the highest levels of elephant poaching in 2011.
The illegal hunting of elephants peaked between 2012 and 2013 but poaching has been on the decline.
African elephants continue to live outside protected areas, which exposes them to poaching and an increase in cases of human-wildlife, the report said.