The African Wildlife Foundation chief executive Kaddu Sebunya spoke to Kennedy Senelwa on the challenges of wildlife conservation.
Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa want the restrictions imposed by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) eased to enable them to sell off stockpiles of raw ivory. What informs this and can the appeal be accommodated?
The four countries, which have combined range land of approximately 500,000 square kilometres, host over 260,000 elephants — the highest numbers in all of Africa. These countries have a right to petition Cites to allow them to sell their ivory stockpiles, because that is what the system is for.
AWF would not like to see ivory sold because of past experience. When Cites in 1980s allowed Zimbabwe to sell the stockpiles to Japan, poachers took advantage to kill elephants in other countries and Tanzania lost about half of its herd.
What is there to stop poachers from doing the same again? As it is, buyers do not have biometrics to check tusks are from which country.
Poachers kill about 20,000 elephants in Africa annually. This is bad enough on its own. But there is also old elephant ivory, which is freely traded in some countries such as New Zealand.
Traders sometimes mix the two ivories together. We are asking Europe to shut ivory sales markets where traders argue they are selling very old stocks but in practice this is mixed with elephant ivory poached from Africa.
Botswana on May 23 lifted its five-year suspension of trophy hunting, citing challenges of sustaining a large elephant population and the increase in human-wildlife conflict. What is the likely impact of this decision?
AWF recognises the inherent right of African governments to manage their natural resources including wildlife.
Botswana made the decision to lift the suspension of elephant ivory trophy hunting following public consultations. This needs to be respected.
This means elephants straying outside protected areas will be killed, but subject to certain conditions.
Botswana has the largest elephant population, of around 130,000, in Africa, due to successful conservation policies over the years. One of the challenges of sustaining a large elephant population is increased conflict with humans.
Over 30 people were killed in Botswana by elephants last year, many others injured and displaced with some households left destitute due to crop damage caused by the elephants.
Elephants are not restricted to protected areas in Botswana as the mammals migrate to South Africa, Nambia and Angola among other rangeland states.
There is a danger of poachers on migration routes killing elephants to get ivory for personal benefit.
What is the likely impact of Botswana’s decision on neighbouring countries with whom it shares elephants and other wildlife populations?
The transboundary Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KaZa TFCA) spanning Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe holds over 80 per cent of elephants in Southern Africa.
Elephants are a tourism magnet and also a key species playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of ecosystems in which they live.
Neighbouring countries have to be on the lookout to control resurgence in elephant poaching since reduction of elephants can have negative effects on the ecological system.
How did Botswana manage to have such a huge elephant population?
Botswana is one of the success stories in wildlife conservation on the continent. The country has high technical capacity and expertise and a proven track record in crafting successful conservation programmes.
To protect the large elephant population, the government has put in place strong measures to protect wildlife against criminal threats such as poaching and trafficking.
The Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act was enacted in 1992 to make better provision for conservation and management of wildlife.
It gives effect to Cites and any international convention for protection of fauna and flora to which Botswana is a party to provide for establishment, control, and management of national parks and game reserves.
In game reserves and sanctuaries, it is an offence to hunt, kill or capture any animal or any species without a permit. On game ranches, one cannot farm, ranch, hunt or capture animals without authorisation.
Exporting, importing, transporting and reexporting wildlife and wildlife products is regulated and only do under a permit. Dangerous weapons and items likely to harm wildlife such as explosives, traps, and poisons are also prohibited.
To protect wildlife species that are endangered or vulnerable, the Act creates several offenses. Within national parks killing, hunting, capturing, injuring, disturbing or removing wildlife are some of actions criminalised.
Can Botswana pursue alternative solutions beyond trophy hunting to work with communities to address the challenges facing groups of people that live alongside wildlife?
Botswana’s biggest elephant population is in the Okavango Delta whose water source is in Angola.
Botswana has to come up with proactive ways to contribute conservation of water catchment areas in Angola as tourism is one of its largest foreign exchange earners.
A significant proportion of wildlife exists outside protected areas where survival is dependent on their ability to coexist with increasing human populations as a result of demand for land for agricultural expansion and development.
Africa has to ensure migration corridors are not occupied to ensure free movement and reduce human-wildlife conflict.
AWF has built schools in Botswana to provide education to people to join professional cadres of lawyers among others to reduce overdependence on land.
Communities living alongside wildlife in Botswana need alternative source of livelihood such as being owners of vehicles ferrying tourists and supplying commodities to tourism resorts instead of relying only on growing food crops.
AWF helped encourage growing of tea in places in Uganda where there are gorillas. Gorillas do not feed on tea plantations, so the incomes of farmers increased. In Tanzania, we introduced beekeeping and growing of chillies, which deter elephants from attacking farm lands.
AWF will continue to engage the government of Botswana on its pledge to pursue policies that promote the conservation of wildlife and develop sustainable livelihoods of communities.
The historical debate between Africa’s governments and conservation stakeholders must shift its focus on wildlife protection to one that includes realistic, sustainable economic transformation.
Zimbabwe has asked to be allowed to sell its stockpile of ivory to raise money for conservation and community projects. What is wrong with that?
Zimbabwe will not realise enough money from sale of its stockpile for conservation and community projects. The elephant is a priceless jewel.
Zimbabwe has to come up with other ways to raise enough money for the country’s wildlife agency to undertake various functions.
Zimbabwe’s move seeking relaxing of ivory trade restrictions could lead to a massive increase in killing of elephants not only in the country but on the entire continent as Cites past one-off sales failed to stem demand for tusks.
Elephant numbers declined substantially from 1975 to 1989 as a result of poaching, leading to laundering of ivory to legal trade and the 2008 re-run of one-off sales experiment escalated illegal killing of the mammal.
Cites banned global sales of new ivory in 1989 due to the devastating effects of decades of poaching. Cites allowed Japan and later China in 1999 and 2008 to buy tusks in experimental sales that enabled traffickers to ply their trade due to the difficulty in distinguishing legal ivory from poached ivory.
Are the legal mechanisms to address poaching in East Africa adequate?
East Africa has enough wildlife laws but the enforcement problems exist partly caused of corruption and lack of trained prosecutors. AWF’s series of trainings in detection, investigation and adjudication of wildlife crimes brings together stakeholders in the region.
Target trainees include investigators, prosecutors, judicial officers and Customs officers who are helped to understand wildlife laws, overcome weaknesses in investigations and prosecutions, establish interagency collaborative frameworks, and ensure proper case management.