An ivory carving industry for Namibia?

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While an “IVORY Art – Made in Namibia” label might seem unreal, an ivory carving industry might well become a reality if Namibia’s quest to obtain permission for trading in ivory carvings and elephant leather goods is approved by the international community.

Dr Pauline Lindeque, Director of Scientific Services of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, says an ivory carving industry is seen as one way of bringing more direct benefits to communities which have to tolerate elephants.  It is also considered as a means to add value to the ivory that is being collected every year from elephants that have died from natural causes or management-related activities such as problem animal control.

If the request were to be approved, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) would develop the necessary control measures to oversee and create an ivory industry in the country. Such an industry would be directed at the tourism market.

Although current legislation makes provision for the registration of ivory carving manufacturers, it fell out of use because of the strict control on the trade of products being enforced by international law. The present legislation dates from before the international ivory trade ban came into force and is currently being revised. New regulations on raw and carved ivory, as well as control measures for the industry, will be included in the new legislation.

While Namibia tried for many years – successfully and unsuccessfully – to gain approval for legal ivory trade from the Conference of Parties on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it will be the first request in this regard. In the MET’s proposal to CITES, trade in ivory carvings and leather goods for non-commercial purposes is requested. The intention is that while it will not be possible for the items to be bought in bulk to re-sell overseas, tourists will be allowed to export a small, specified number of items for personal effects.

Almost a fifth (currently more than 1.4 ton) of the legitimate ivory in the stockpile consists of small ivory pieces that are ideal for ivory art. The idea is that a conservancy will be able to register for ivory carving. Ivory from the national stockpile, originating from the area where the carvers live, would then be made available to them.

Dr Lindeque believes it will take one or two years to develop and implement the necessary control measures for the industry that CITES will have to approve. “It will not be easy to implement,” she explains. “A lot of control measures will need to be put in place.” A controlled industry will also serve the purpose of gaining more control of illegal ivory art that is currently entering the tourism curio market.

There is concern that products such as the ekipa (an ancient Owambo artefact carved of ivory in the shape of a button) that are sold in curio shops are imitations made of new ivory. Since there are no manufacturers of carved ivory registered in the country (in accordance with the Proclamation on Controlled Game Pro-ducts AG 42) this can only mean that these products are manufactured illegally and that the ivory comes from an illegal source.

Articles such as genuine ekipas are classified as pre-convention items, which means that they date from a time before the Convention came into force in 1975. According to CITES, trade can be allowed in these articles, but permits are still required to export any ivory item, even if it is a pre-convention item. The current legislation is also outdated in the sense that it does not have regulations on the sale of carved ivory. The MET encourages shop owners to obtain permits to sell carved ivory items such as ekipas.

In future, shops selling ivory curios to tourists will probably be authorised to issue certificates (permits) stating that the item is sold for non-commercial purposes. All items will be properly controlled and marked to ensure that they are from legal ivory. The necessary controls for an elephant-leather goods industry and the right to trade in raw elephant hides will also be developed.

At present elephant hides are not routinely recovered from the few cases when elephants are destroyed in problem animal control. A lack of suitable storage facilities and the current inability to market hides have made this not feasible. With regulations in place, the hides will be recovered to maximise benefits that can be reinvested into elephant conservation. The number of hides collected from problem control cases would average less than 20 per year.

Hides are currently being collected from trophy animals when sport hunters wish to export them. A leather goods industry would ensure that excess leather obtained from trophy animals could be utilised and would benefit rural communities.

Fund reduces conflict of people with wildlife

For most of the year up to 200 elephants live virtually side by side with the 10 000 people of the ≠Khoadi//Hôas conservancy, where they attempt to make a living in the arid area near Grootberg. The conservancy is aptly named ≠Khoadi//Hôas, meaning “elephant corner” in the local language.

For decades the people endured the brutality of sustaining a living in this parched area. Part of their daily fight against the realities of nature was to see how their meagre crops and water points were damaged and destroyed by elephants in search of food and water. This was the situation until two years ago when the Game Products Trust Fund came into being to fund projects aimed at reducing conflict between people and wildlife. ≠Khoadi//Hôas became the first communal conservancy to benefit from the fund.

Money allocated was used to build practical infrastructures that would reduce contact between elephants and humans, while an elephant-monitoring programme was implemented. The development of community-run campsites from which the community could generate an income based on elephant-related tourism was also supported. “Projects that improve people’s ability to live with wildlife are funded,” explains Nils Odendaal of the Namibia Nature Foundation (NFF), the non-profit organisation appointed to administer the Game Products Trust Fund. “In this case practical changes that can be seen immediately were combined with activities with more long-term outcomes.”

A similar project was started with five other conservancies in the Kunene Region – Ozondundu, Okangundumba, Omatendeka, Orupupa and EhiRovipuka – through financial assistance from the fund. These five conservancies are situated west of the Etosha National Park in a drought-prone area where people exist largely from subsistence livestock farming. They are experiencing the same problems with elephants. Ultimately the 20 000 people in the area and the entire elephant population of the north west of almost 800 animals will benefit.

The Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF) was recently established as a direct result of Namibia’s legal ivory trade three years ago. The country committed itself to using all the revenue from trade exclusively for elephant and community conservation and development programmes in areas where elephants occur. Revenue from the head levies of live game exports, the sale of trophy hunting concessions on state land and other animal products is also paid into the fund. In the past this revenue went into state coffers.

A board consisting of members from the Environment and Tourism, Finance, Agriculture, Water and Rural Development ministries, as well as two members from community-based organisations working with sustainable wildlife resource management programmes, manages the fund. A technical team assists board members to evaluate proposals. Since the fund was established, five projects (including the two conservancy projects) were funded with over N$1.2 million.

Dr Pauline Lindeque, Director of Scientific Services of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, says projects designed to offer practical solutions to problems with wild animals enjoy priority. “Projects should bring benefits to communities outside conservation areas,” she says. “It is not compensation for losses, but should offer more long-term solutions.”

Other projects include the maintenance of fencing at Waterberg Plateau Park and a project to involve communities in Caprivi in the opening of firebreaks in parks. A training workshop for Southern African countries on the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephant (MIKE) system was also funded.

In the Kunene region the projects are aimed at reducing the cost and increasing the benefits of elephants for communities, thereby creating incentives for their long-term conservation. One of the biggest problems with elephants, the destruction of water infrastructures, has been addressed by building alternative water points for them away from villages and making community water points elephant-proof.

By monitoring the elephant’s movements and concentrations, information is collected that will assist the communities in the development of land use and management plans. It has enabled ≠Khoadi//Hôas to divide its conservancy area into areas of core wildlife, main agriculture and mixed land-use (“buffer zone”). Water points for the elephants were strategically located to keep elephants in the core wildlife area or “buffer zone” as long as possible. The idea is to reduce conflict in the main agriculture area.

Community game guards received training from the regional Ministry office in the monitoring of elephants. Information gathered from the monitoring will also be used to develop regional and national elephant management policies. Other elements of the project include improving the communication infrastructure to enable communities to operate an early warning system. Electric fencing (movable and permanent) will protect crops and vegetable gardens. According to Odendaal, fewer problems are already being reported.

The biggest threat to the Namibian elephant population is regarded as the loss of habitat through opposition with humans. The five conservancies’ project covers an area of more than 2 million hectares. Hopefully, with less conflict, increased monitoring and income from tourism, elephants will be tolerated in the area – a crucial factor to ensure their long-term future.

This article appeared in the 2002 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.

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