SA urges Africa to support legal ivory sales

South Africa has made a strong call to other African countries to support a bid by itself and four of its neighbours to be allowed to legally sell elephant ivory.

The sale of ivory has been banned internationally since 1989. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the country has about 30 tons of ivory, ”a natural by-product of animals dying of natural causes as well as through management actions”, stockpiled in the Kruger National Park.

If the ivory was sold at the pre-1989 price of up to $300 a kilogram, the stockpile would fetch as much as $9-million on world markets, where the tusks are eagerly sought for carving into expensive ornaments and jewellery.

The call comes only weeks ahead of a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Chile, to discuss a proposal by five southern African countries that they be allowed to sell stockpiled ivory.

The convention — which aims to protect certain species by banning trade in products derived from them — has been signed by more than 150 countries.

Trade in elephant ivory was made illegal in 1989, but Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were allowed to sell 60 tons of stockpiled ivory in 1999, despite opposition from other African nations, particularly Kenya.

The 1989 ban followed the wholesale slaughter of an estimated 700 000 elephants during the 1980s, a decade which saw their numbers fall from 1,3-million to 600 000.

In 2000, CITES members agreed to a two-year moratorium on ivory sales.

South Africa and Zambia are now joining their three southern African neighbours in asking the CITES meeting to allow 80 tons of stockpiled ivory to be sold.

Addressing a meeting of diplomats and businessmen in Gaborone, Botswana, South African Environmental Affairs Minister Valli Moosa said conservation methods in Africa should not be prescribed by northern countries.

The continent should ”maintain the prerogative to formulate African solutions to African problems”.

”History has shown that Africa’s vulnerability due to the scarcity of financial resources has been exploited previously by northern NGOs for the furthering of their own agendas.

”Africa should unite in unified action, or face massive negative consequences such as those being faced by Botswana presently,” he said.

Botswana was one of only a few countries globally that had managed to set aside 10% of its total area for conservation purposes, but now found this facing potential destruction due to an overpopulation of elephants.

”Drastic action to ensure the future of our biodiversity and tourism is required within the SADC region,” Moosa said. His department believes income generated from the sale of ivory, while not solving all the financial problems associated with conservation, will definitely help the country to address some of them.

”Funding for conservation projects is always difficult to come by and managing parks with elephants or developing new parks where elephant could be accommodated is very expensive.

”Revenues from the sale would be used in projects in the interest of elephant conservation,” the department said in a recent press release.

Kenya, however, is championing a total ban on the trade in ivory, legal or otherwise. Deputy chairman of that country’s wildlife service, Richard Leakey, was quoted recently as saying: ”When the ivory trade becomes partially legal, the illegal hunt for elephants becomes financially interesting.”

By late on Friday, the department of environmental affairs had not yet replied to questions, put to it earlier in the day by Sapa, on South Africa’s proposals to sell ivory. – Sapa

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Richard Davies
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