HARARE – Zimbabwe is lobbying regional countries to lift an international ban on ivory sales ahead of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting scheduled for neighbouring South Africa in September, a senior government official said yesterday.
Minister of Environment Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, told Sadc diplomats at a Cites breakfast meeting in Harare, that opening up the trade of wild animal products will raise badly-needed funds for conservation given the financial challenges of developing countries such as Zimbabwe, which is staunchly opposed to a protectionist or anti-use approach.
Global trade of ivory is banned, though Cites has allowed one-off sales of national stockpiles.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said trade bans were futile, citing the rhino species which is now teetering on the brink of extinction, but whose trade has been banned for the last 40 years.
“There is no tangible evidence that trade bans have ever saved a species from extinction,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
She said the country is currently carrying more than 70 tonnes of ivory in its armoury.
“This has become so dangerous to protect given the determination of the illegal traders of ivory,” she said.
“To us, burning (ivory) is not an option, we need the resources for sustainable wildlife conservation.
“It is my hope that Sadc will speak with one voice at (Conference of the Parties) Cop 17. It is imperative for our regional economy that Sadc countries unite in defending our right to sustainably use our natural resources.”
Proposals for the meeting, were made public yesterday, with Zimbabwe bidding to open up the trade in elephant ivory, against initiatives led by Kenya and other West African countries for a complete global ban on the coveted commodity.
Cites held its last Cop — where proposed amendments regarding trade in wild animals and plants are voted on by member states, three years ago.
The agreements are legally binding but only regulate international trade and do not replace national laws.
Since then, thousands of African elephants have been poached for ivory and thousands of rhinos killed for their horns to meet soaring demand in Asia, dramatically raising the ecological, economic and emotional stakes in this upcoming round of wildlife diplomacy in Johannesburg.
There are 182 member states to Cites. Zimbabwe ratified and became a party to the Cites Convention in 1981.
“It is rather unfortunate that certain member states to the Cites Convention are using it as a platform to stifle economic growth in developing countries such as Zimbabwe through unwarranted wildlife trade restrictions,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
“Protectionist approaches do not bring any direct benefits to rural communities who face the brunt of living in perennial problems of human-wildlife conflict.”
Muchinguri-Kashiri said a case in point was the move by Western countries to ban the importation of elephant and lion trophies in their countries from producer countries such as Zimbabwe, which hosts 83 000 African elephants and a sizeable rhino population of 850 individuals.
Last year, the highly-publicised killing of a lion named “Cecil” by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe provoked a global outcry.
The US has also banned trophies hunted from Zimbabwe from entering into the US; and the EU Parliament is lobbying for the ban of wildlife trophies in Europe, supported by some African countries that Muchinguri-Kashiri said had “no wildlife to talk about.”
“This is being done outside the original spirit and intentions of Cites,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
President of the Chiefs Council Fortune Charumbira said it was imperative that rural communities be involved as they depend on the trade.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said Zimbabwe has already submitted a proposal to the Cop 17 to amend the annotation that is currently affecting the country’s trade in ivory, thereby depriving the local population from benefitting from its wildlife.