Debate over elephant and rhino hunting

Aug 11, 2019 | News

By Christiane Oelrich – 7 News

The export ban on hunting trophies for white rhinoceroses from Namibia and elephants from Zambia should be lifted, the two countries are demanding.

Namibia and Zambia’s requests will come up for a vote at an international conference of the 183 countries that have signed on to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) between August 17 and 28 in Geneva.

The pact that was signed in 1973 in Washington places curbs and bans on the cross-border sale of some 5,000 animal and 30,000 plant species.

“No marked decline in population has occurred for 43 years since the re-establishment of this population,” Namibia wrote in its rhino proposal, adding that the country holds the second largest such population in the world after South Africa.

Zambia offered similar arguments regarding elephants in its submission to CITES members: “The wild population is large (about 27,000 animals) and stable.”

Both countries reason that income from limited hunting and trophy trade is needed to support the livelihood of local communities, and to guarantee that local people back animal conservation efforts.

Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland are also among the group of countries that want to allow export of ivory and animal hides as long as the products will not be used for commercial purposes.

Animal conservation activists are alarmed.

“There were similar proposals in 2007, and the consequences were devastating,” said Daniela Freyer, one of the founders of the German group Pro Wildlife.

That year, CITES member countries agreed to allow Botswana, Namibia and South Africa to sell their existing stocks of ivory.

However, customs officials were unable to detect whether the ivory that was being shipped was from these stocks, or from freshly killed elephants.

“At the height of the poaching crisis between 2010 and 2012, more than 100,000 elephants were poached,” Freyer said.

“An estimated 20,000 animals are still being killed each year for their ivory,” she added.

Although the global market has plummeted since China banned ivory trade last year, there is still demand from Japan, according to Freyer.

In any case, contraband trade is continuing.

Singapore authorities seized 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory worth $US12.9 million ($A19m) in July, marking the single largest such haul that has been confiscated in the country.

The shipment, which originated in Congo and was bound for Vietnam via Singapore, was declared as timber. The ivory was estimated to have come from 300 elephants.

“We demand a complete trade ban for ivory on the national and international levels,” said Ralf Sonntag, who will attend the Geneva conference as the representative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Because customs authorities will never be able to detect every contraband shipment, easing current restrictions would send the wrong signal to smugglers and would result in more poaching, Sonntag argues.

“Exceptions should only be made for antique works of art with little ivory content of 200 to 300 grams, or for antique musical instruments,” he said.

The head of the CITES Secretariat in Geneva, Ivonne Higuero, sees a dilemma brewing, as other African countries further north who also have elephant populations are opposed to relaxed trade rules.

At the same time, Higuero told dpa that she understands the requests that have been submitted by the southern African countries.

“I was in Zimbabwe. It is pretty evident that in some areas the populations haven grown and there are more conflicts with the communities. You can see the damage,” she said.

Higuero, an environmental economist from Panama, has been serving as CITES secretary general since October.

She stressed that she takes a neutral position, and that these matters will have to be decided by the parties to the CITES pact.

However, she said local communities must be able to earn their livelihood by managing animal populations, trees and plans in a sustainable way.