Convention on the International Trade must rally for ban on ivory trade
Delegates from 180-member Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) kicked off a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland at the weekend with how to protect the African elephant—literally the elephant in the room.
The conference, held every three years, comes against a backdrop of contentious developments, including proposals by several southern African countries to relax ban on trade of ivory products.
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia have gone a step further and are prepared to allow culling, citing soaring elephant population and adverse ecological impact and human-wildlife conflict Subsequently, they want down-listed, elephant protection to Appendix 11, meaning lifting ban on trade in registered raw ivory with approved trade partners. They say proceeds from licensed hunting will be used to enhance fauna management.
Echoing sentiments by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet secretary Najib Balala recently restated Kenya’s position which is backed by Nigeria and Gabon against lifting ban on hunting. Kenya is emphatic that ban on ivory trade must remain and is urging that the Geneva talks place elephants on Appendix 1, which translates into full protection and total ban in ivory trade globally.
The problem with the culling is that it will ultimately erode the distinction between legality and poaching activities, with grave impact on jumbo population. The poaching menace, especially of elephants and rhinos in Africa, is associated with grim statistics. A study in 2016 revealed that between 30,000 and 40,000 elephants are killed every year. The estimation is that only 400,000 African elephants remain currently. These are horrific figures.
The convention must be resolute about enforcing laws protecting endangered species and how to reduce demand in some Asian countries, where ivory and rhino horn are traded, mostly illegally. In particular, China and Vietnam are being called upon to put in place policies that reduce demand for rhino horn and ivory products and help debunk myths that rhino horn can cure dangerous illnesses.
Kenya’ views wildlife is part of national heritage crucial to our economic wellbeing both in terms of the multi-billion-shilling tourism industry and to biodiversity.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, international criminal elements are to blame for financing poachers, who are today using high-tech weaponry. Of course their part is to supply to the big players who have taken advantage of previous CITES decision to sell off excess stock from southern African countries, after seeking lifting of ivory trade ban.
CITES meeting must be resolute in discouraging the trend of placing value on ivory as Balala argued, pointing out that doing so invites demand. Trade in game trophies is demand-driven so as much as sufficient efforts and investment must continue to be put in conservation and protection, more thought must also be channeled towards curbing consumer trends which spur demand.
Gains from prudent conservation efforts by Kenya in recent years have seen the population of elephants jump. It is also important that more effective policies and stiffer deterrent measures are put in place to make poaching costly.