Ivory in Namibia: Renewed efforts to lift the ban

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“What we want to bring across is that the international ban on ivory trade might save some elephant populations, but at the expense of others,” says Dr Pauline Lindeque, Director of Scientific Services of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. “The international community should recognise that the problems with elephants are not the same throughout their range and that not just one solution – an international ban on ivory trade – is the answer.”

The ban on ivory trade will once again be in the limelight when, later this year, Namibia tries anew to convince the international community of its sovereign right to manage elephant populations and ivory stockpiles in the best interests of conservation. And, says Dr Lindeque, “In the best interests of conservation for Namibia this means an annual ivory quota.”

Namibia is of the opinion that controlled ivory trade will benefit the survival of the species, as all revenue will be reinvested in elephant conservation. Proof of this can be seen with projects that have been implemented with funding from the Game Products Trust Fund in which revenue from a previous ivory sale have been deposited.

The biggest threat to Namibia’s elephant populations is conflict with humans, says Dr Lindeque. “We have to look at mechanisms to address this problem and to make it possible for people to live with elephants. A ban will not achieve this in any way.”

In November at the CITES conference in Chile, Namibia will once again request approval for a quota to sell and export 2 000 kg of ivory annually. The quota of two tons is based on the ivory accumulated annually when elephants die naturally or through management practices such as problem elephant control. The country will also request a quota of not more than 10 000 kg of ivory for initial trade. This quota is based on the current stock of ivory that has accumulated from natural or management causes. All ivory that will be exported will come from Namibia’s registered stockpile. No ivory from poached elephants or illegal trade is included in the quota.

Namibia is committed to adhere to precautionary measures for trade in raw ivory to prevent negative conservation impacts on other elephant populations or to stimulate illegal hunting or trade. Trading partners will be approved by the CITES secretariat to have certain measures in place. This includes sufficient national legislation and domestic trade controls to ensure that ivory imported from Namibia will not be re-exported.

If the proposal is approved, ivory will be exported only as from May 2004. According to Dr Lindeque, Namibia built a 18-month delay into the proposal in order to offer other African countries time to implement a management system for the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). The delay period would also allow prospective trading partners to develop the necessary control measures to be allowed to participate in the legal trade. It is hoped that the delay will also put pressure on funding agencies to fund the implementation of the MIKE system.

One of the reasons why Namibia (and other Southern African countries) withdrew its previous proposal at the last Conference of Parties was respect for the concern that the MIKE system had not been implemented in most other African countries. The system was one of the requirements of the international community in 1997 when the export of ivory was approved for Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

Dr Lindeque says that this year Namibia will not accept the implementation of the system as a reason to stop future trade. This system has been implemented in Namibia for three years. “Southern Africa should not be held hostage to the difficulties other range states experience in elephant management,” she says.

Other elements of the proposal include existing elements regarding: maintaining the Namibian population of the African elephant on Appendix II to allow for regulated trade; a quota for trophy exports; and trade in live elephants to appropriate and acceptable destinations. New elements are trade in hides, leather goods and ivory carvings.

Historical aspects of Namibia’s ivory exports

In 1999 Namibia, together with Botswana and Zimbabwe, conducted the first legal international sale and export of ivory since the 1989 ban on ivory trade. The highly regulated, experimental trade was based on a decision made at the 1997 Cites Conference of the Parties in Harare.

Through this sale Namibia demonstrated that it had complied in full with the requirements imposed by the Conference of the Parties, the standing committee and the CITES secretariat concerning trade in ivory. The export trade, which was conducted transparently and under intense international supervision, was successful and took place in complete isolation from any possible illegal trade. Revenue from the sale of more than 12 tons of ivory amounted to N$3.9 million and was deposited in the Game Products Trust Fund.

In 2000 Namibia, again with Botswana and Zimbabwe, tried for the first time to obtain approval for annual quotas. At the same time South Africa submitted a proposal for a down-listing of their elephant population, and an ivory quota.

At the meeting Kenya submitted a proposal to return the elephant populations of the three countries to Appendix 1 — thus stoping all further legal trade in ivory. Four countries – Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe – agreed on a compromise withdrawal of their proposals under intense international pressure for a united African position. South African was allowed to down-list its elephant population to Appendix 2.

At least South Africa and Zimbabwe will be submitting similar proposals. Botswana has indicated full support of their efforts.

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




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