Southern African countries agree to push for a lift on international ivory trade

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  • Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Namibia have signed the Hwange Declaration in order to lift the ban on the ivory trade.
  • The five countries are home to an estimated 300 000 elephants in a shared transfrontier park.
  • Zimbabwe seeks to sell 163 000 tons of ivory.

Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, and Namibia are teaming up to legalise the international trade in ivory, which has been banned for decades.

The Southern African countries, on Thursday, signed the Hwange Declaration, a treaty pushing for the opening of ivory sales, and was set to push for the adoption of the treaty at the 19th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be held in Panama in November.

The countries all attended the African Elephant Conference in Hwange National Park, where the agreement was reached.

Hwange National Park is also part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) which brings together the wildlife population of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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It's estimated that there are 300 000 elephants in the KAZA area and the member states as such, want their voices to be heard.

Part of the Hwange Declaration said that signatories want, "to forge a new and better deal for the elephant conservation, tourism and rural communities in key African range states".

Range states are countries with elephant populations.

The global elephant conservation project straddled two extremes - while the global African elephant population had declined in recent years, the elephant population in Southern Africa was on the rise.

This had resulted in an increase in human to animal conflict in the region. The summit was held just under a week after a man from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe's prime tourism destination, was killed by an elephant.

His death was the 60th case of human-wildlife conflict in the country involving elephants.

"Countries with high elephant populatio

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ns must be heard and listened to and must benefit from their efforts in conserving their elephants," the declaration stated.

Zimbabwe's tourism and climate change minister Mangaliso Ndhlovu told News24 that countries with an elephant crisis were faced with tough decisions.

"Trade is not the danger to elephants, but habitat loss and conflicts with humans. Governments of elephant range states are faced with social and political pressures on why elephants are prioritised over their own lives and livelihoods. These are pertinent issues that are difficult to address in a balanced manner," he said.

Nineteen countries were initially invited to the conference, but only six attended.

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State media reports in Zimbabwe said Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, and Zimbabwe were signatories to the Hwange Declaration. South Africa, which sent representatives from the wildlife sector, was due to ratify the declaration.

For its part, Zimbabwe was seeking to sell 163 000 tons of ivory worth R9.7 billion ($600 million). The quantity was about a third higher than Kenya's more than 100 tons burnt by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016 to curb illicit trade.

CITES banned international commercial ivory trade in 1989, but in 1997 briefly allowed Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make one-time sales of ivory to Japan totalling 50 tons. 

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
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