June 18, 2002

Namibia Lobbies UN On Ivory

Namibia has asked the conservation body of the United Nations to allow the country to sell ivory stocks on an annual basis. The proposal was submitted to the office of the United Nations Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (Cites) on June 6 after it was approved by Cabinet recently.

Director of Scientific Services in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Pauline Lindeque, told the newspaper The Namibian on June 17 that initially Namibia wants to sell 10 tonnes of ivory and then a quota of two tonnes each year. Asked whether Government was hopeful that its proposal will be entertained, Lindeque said: "It is going to be a fight again."

Namibia is home to approximately 10.000 elephants and has about 40 tonnes of ivory stockpiled. Namibia's elephant population is on Cites' Appendix II, which allows one-off sales of ivory but not annual quotas. Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Botswana have also asked Cites to allow them to trade in ivory through the sale of yearly quotas. In addition Zambia wants to put 17 tonnes of ivory on the market, although it has not asked for a quota.

The next meeting of Cites' 158 signatory states, which will look at the request, will be held in Santiago, Chile, from November 3-15 this year. Reuters reports that there is no certainty that African countries will win the necessary two-thirds majority needed to allow new ivory sales, particularly as India and Kenya are pressing for even tighter protection for the African elephant. Cites, which prohibits trade in endangered species and severely limits it on others, last waived its ban on ivory sale in 1997 to let Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe sell off stockpiles in one-off auctions. As a result of the waiver, Namibia held an ivory auction in Windhoek in 1999 at which about 12.6 tonnes were sold to Japan, where it is used for traditional art and craft. Lindeque told The Namibian that N$3,9 million was generated from the auction.

Money from the sale of wildlife products is placed in a Game Products Trust Fund which is used for conservation efforts and community development. In 1999 Zimbabwe was allowed to sell 20 tonnes and Botswana sold 25 tonnes. Cites officials said previously that if the one-off sales to Japan have the effect of increasing poaching in other countries, a full-scale ban on the sale of elephant parts could be re-imposed. Lindeque said no buyer had yet been lined up for the proposed sales, but that it was likely that Japan would be the main market if trade was allowed. "But we will not restrict to Japan," she added.

In its proposal, Namibia said if the ban is lifted, it will not sell ivory for 18 months so that Cites can monitor that the elephant population in Namibia is not being poached. There are 900 species listed on Cites' Appendix I while another 4.000 are partially protected under Appendix II, where trading requires a special permit. The African elephant was placed on Cites Appendix I in 1989 following a decrease in the population because of poaching. Cites reviews its appendices every two and a half years.

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, argued earlier that when the elephant population exceeds the carrying capacity of the land then elephants are forced into conflict with humans - destroying crops, homesteads and sometimes killing people. Namibia's elephants mainly live in the Caprivi Region, the Kunene Region and the Etosha National Park.

At the meeting in Santiago in November, Japan will also seek permission to buy whale products from Norway.

Two wildlife organisations have come out in support of the Government's plans. The Namibia Nature Foundation's Project Co-ordinator, Nils Odendaal said that they back Government's request 100 per cent. He said the NNF did not believe the move would encourage poaching. Odendaal said Namibia's one-off sale of ivory in 1999 was carried out in "a very controlled manner". He noted that the controlled sale of ivory was in keeping with the NNF's aim of promoting the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. Chris Weaver, Project Co-ordinator of the World Wildlife Fund's Life Project, said the country had good conservation measures in place which had facilitated an increase in the elephant population. Weaver said as long as there was an effective monitoring system, Namibia and other southern African countries should be allowed to trade in ivory in a sustainable manner. "The sustainable use of elephants is extremely important because it generates income," said Weaver. Both the NNF and the Life Project support rural conservancies. (THE NAMIBIAN)

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