JOHANNESBURG – Countries in southern Africa, one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, are threatening to pull out of an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals in favor of relaxing trade laws of certain mammals, including rhinos and elephants.
Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe are some of the countries that have expressed their discontent over the fact the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ignored requests to lift trade bans on certain animals.
The signatories of CITES – 182 states and the European Union – rejected by majority the request of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, and Namibia to authorize the trade of white rhinos and their horns, which reach astronomical prices on the illegal Asian market where they are attributed medicinal properties.
A proposal to relax restrictions on trade in elephant products (a species that is listed as vulnerable) was also rejected.
“We are sitting on ivory stockpiles worth $600 million,” Emmerson Mnangagwa, president of Zimbabwe, a nation that is crippled with an economic crisis, said.
“It’s a lot of money we can use for big projects.
“Our wild animals are being discussed in Geneva, an irrelevant place to the animals.
“We now know what to do about the issue.”
CITES protects some 36,000 animal and plant species in the world, of which about 900 are found in Appendix 1, which bans their trade.
African elephants are included within that section, except for the populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which due to their larger size are included in Appendix 2, which is less restrictive.
Even though there are larger populations of elephants in this region, ivory trade is included in Appendix 1 so as not to encourage poaching.
“Today CITES discards proven, working conservation models in favor of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models” John Magufuli, Tanzanian President said.
“The result has been a failure to adopt progressive, equitable, inclusive and science-based conservation strategies.
“We believe this failure has arisen from the domination of protectionist ideology over science decision-making within CITES,” Magufuli added.
Several countries confirmed that they would be addressing this issue within the Southern African Development Community, a block that integrates 16 southern nations.
Leaving the international convention does not guarantee alternatives
The states that have put forward their concerns have argued that the rules are too protectionist and that they are subject to the opinions of Western governments and lobbyists, regardless of the real circumstances and the great advances in conservation achieved by African states.
However, not every southern African nation shares this opinion.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Kenya is against relaxing trade rules.
“We are not happy to see such divisions between Southern Africa and other parts but we do appreciate that some of them, not all, are doing a good job in managing their wildlife. Better than some of the countries that take the opposite view in many issues “ Colman O’Criodain, wildlife trade specialist at World Wildlife Fund, told Efe.
“They are better off in the convention because they’ll have some input in the decision-making process.
“They have scope for getting better at the COP if they prepare better and play better politically and speak to other parties, specially the EU and the US,” O’Criodain added.
Withdrawal from the convention would mean losing the right to trade with any other country within CITES since the statutes only allow members to exchange regulated fauna and flora with member states.
“There’s, for instance, an expectation that if they were allowed to export their ivory there will be countries willing to buy it, but that’s not the case” O’Criodain continued.
“China has banned domestic trade, so we have to assume that they won’t be interested and most other countries interested or countries that expressed interest in the past will have to change their legislation first,” the expert added.
Japan would remain the only potential importer the expert said, but that would also imply that there would be no competition and as such prices would drop.
“They are talking from the perspective that if they are allowed to sell the ivory lots of people will buy and they will get good prices and the NGOs are lobbying and ruining those opportunities and taking the bread from the mouths of their people,” O’Criodain added.
“I think that rhetoric is more designed for their domestic audiences,” the WWF expert mused.