KAZA states renew calls for CITES pull out Wildlife experts lead a plenary session at the ongoing 2024 Kaza Heads of State Summit in Livingstone, Zambia

Leonard Ncube in LIVINGSTONE, Zambia

WITH the largest population of elephants in the world being in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), member-states have renewed calls to pull out of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) over the continued ban on trade in ivory products.

The KAZA TFCA is a conservation area spanning five Southern African countries — Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — with a population of three million people and 227 900 elephants centred around the Caprivi-Chobe-Victoria Falls corridor.

The bloc has a total of 520,000 km2, and about 70 percent of land under conservation, with 103 wildlife management areas, 85 forest reserves, and three world heritage sites.

KAZA hosts half of the African elephants and holds a key position in CITES. This UN agency banned trading ivory and related products by placing countries on Appendix 1.

KAZA countries reportedly hold over US$1 billion worth of stockpiles as they cannot sell ivory despite being faced with high mortality due to drought and poaching.

In November 2019, seven Sadc countries — Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe — protested the anti-wild trade decisions taken by CITES, and declared they would ignore CITES resolutions that   restrict international trade in wild products.

This would have signalled a giant unprecedented move towards a possible exit from CITES, and the potential establishment of a regional ivory and rhino horn trading body had it been religiously implemented.

With the wildlife population, especially that of elephants, growing rapidly in the KAZA region, because of successful conservation activities, competition for habitat has also increased, compounded by the growth in the human population, encroachment into protected areas and El Nino induced climate change conditions, thereby fuelling rampant human-wildlife conflict.

Permanent Secretaries and Representatives of Environment and Wildlife Ministries from Kaza region

African range states have at various fora, seemed to agree to pull out of CITES but fell short of implementing the resolution. Wildlife Ministers from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, and Botswana two years ago led the “Hwange Declaration” at the African Wildlife Summit held in Hwange to pull out of CITES although nothing has been done to date.

Speaking at the ongoing 2024 Kaza Heads of State Summit in Livingstone, Zambia, wildlife experts said the region is convinced that the debate around ivory trade is polarised and doesn’t allow a balanced situation.

They queried why KAZA countries and SADC as a whole were still members of the CITES Convention when little benefits were coming from it.

Ms Elly Hamunyela, the director of scientific services in the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism in Namibia, moved the motion  during a panel discussion on wildlife trade and law enforcement as she reflected on the CITES Convention and implications for partner states.

“Countries should be given rights to sell products like hides in light of the mortality of elephants. Our elephant population is big but we are not culling. 

“What do we do with the products if we are not allowed to trade? If we say CITES is not helping us, why are we still in the CITES Convention? If we leave CITES, will we be able to trade in our region on other products like trophies? 

“We need to take decisive action and have a common position not only in KAZA but Sadc as a whole,” said Ms Hamunyela.

A few years ago, Namibia reported that it was sitting on over US$600 million worth of stockpiles. Wildlife experts said money generated from trade in ivory products could be directed to conservation instead of securing stockpiles.

They urged Africa to speak with one voice to have a sustainable KAZA. Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management director general, Dr Fulton Mangwanya on Monday said Southern Africa should have a voice in CITES because it has the biggest elephant population in the world. Regional states are concerned that developed countries that have no elephants have a stronger voice in CITES than those affected by the elephant population.

At some point Botswana threatened to transfer about 20 000                                                                               elephants to Germany and that stirred a lot of debate. Some sections fear pulling out of CITES will result in sanctions

An independent conservation scientist from Namibia, Dr Malan Lindeque, said Kaza states can exit Cites with minimum damage.

He urged Kaza to take political action and continue to engage on their terms.

“Whatever has been done in the last 15 years or so has not worked. The Cites community is now in a comfort zone and happy to appease the non-governmental organisations and activists and nothing will change as there is no dynamic change within Cites. 

“It’s up to the Sadc region and Kaza member states to make the change, they have to drive a political change in Cites. The power they have is very significant  to conservation of wildlife in protected areas and they need to leverage that by making the strongest possible statement and that statement is to leave Cites. It is possible to leave Cites with minimum consequences and they can register a plan to go back on their terms,” he said.

World Wide Fund Kaza Landscape leader, Dr Mike Knight, said now is the time to bring reality of what Kaza countries are facing with elephant population.

“I heard the call for a possible move from Cites, this is an idea that has been mooted by some of the Kaza countries to stir debate. Human-wildlife conflict is a real thing and people are killed every year in all five countries,” he said. “We have to see wildlife as a valued asset, not as something that can just be pushed aside.” 

Ending on Saturday, the summit is being held under the theme: “Leveraging Kaza’s natural capital and cultural heritage resources as catalysts for development of the eco-system.” —– @ncubeleon




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