Through years of reporting on the plight of elephants, it has become clearly evident that four African countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – are arguably the most responsible for the decline in elephants across the continent. It is their insistence in maintaining an ongoing trade in ivory that fuels the demand globally.
In fact, elephants are utilized in a variety of ways in the four countries: ivory, skin and hair are made into a variety of products; elephant meat is consumed in many parts of Southern Africa; they are hunted for sport; and live elephants are caught for entertainment purposes especially in Zimbabwe.
While Botswana has no legal domestic ivory market (except for allowing one-off transfers of ownership), legislation in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe allows domestic sales of ivory subject to permit. However, effective tracking of retail ivory markets was reported to be only “partial” in all three countries If these domestic markets are not closed, illegal trafficking will increase and ivory will be laundered through them from other African countries.
All four countries have legalized sport hunting of elephants – although Botswana currently has a ban (now under review).
The split-listing of African elephants under CITES means that commercial trade in specimens from elephant populations in Appendix I is not permitted, while exemptions allow ivory and other specimens from the populations of the four Appendix II countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) to be traded.
This means that CITES policy on elephants is being pulled in different directions. Allowing the use of conflicting policy instruments leads to confusing policy signals that are likely to be misinterpreted by existing market structures. Market networking and economic forces do not distinguish between Appendix I and Appendix II ivory and the evolution of poaching statistics appears to confirm this fact. This intrinsic tension of split-listing feeds expectations that ivory trade could be legalized. These expectations have an important influence on investment decisions since capital-widening investments are made to meet future market expansion. This leads to a consolidation of existing market institutions in the legal markets and also reinforces linkages between legal and illegal trade.
Namibia and Zimbabwe are allowed to maintain exemptions for continuous sales of ivory as jewellery or “ekipas” (Namibia) and carvings (Zimbabwe) for “non-commercial purposes”. These constant changes in objectives and policy instruments have the potential for reinforcing existing legal and illegal trade investments and institutions, and may lead to locking in of trajectories that further restrict policy alternatives.
A report by UNEP-WCMC on legal trade in elephant parts and derivatives for the period 2015-2016 was presented to the CITES Standing Committee (SC70 meeting). This report echoed results of the report for the period 2012-13 which was provided to the SC66 meeting. Reported legal trade in African elephants directly from African range States came principally from hunting trophies (including tusks). Records for 2015-16 showed the direct export of 12,543 kg and 133 tusks by number, while importing countries recorded the import of and 124 kg and 752 tusks, a notable discrepancy, due in part to differences in reporting in source and destination countries.
The CITES Trade Database shows wide discrepancies between export and import records in a range of elephant products that are supposedly subject to transaction controls. For the year 2010 alone, it was noted that the figures for exports by Zimbabwe and imports into China were markedly different for ivory carvings, tusks and trophies79. A broader analysis of figures from the CITES Trade Database shows that over the 7-year period including 2010 to 2016 (no more recent figures are available), China reported receiving 293 ivory carvings, 513kg of tusks, and 263 trophies from Zimbabwe, while Zimbabwe’s records of exports to China showed 6,229 ivory carvings, 4,677kg of tusks and only 25 trophies.
Trade in tusks reported by weight in 2015-16 was exclusively from Zimbabwe; exports were primarily hunting trophies and again there were discrepancies between the export and import records. Exports of tusks for trophies apparently exceeded quotas for Namibia and Botswana, although there was inconsistent reporting of parts from the same animal, either as separate trophies or combined into one trophy. This lack of coherence indicates that domestic markets are poorly regulated and offer broad opportunities for laundering.
The tension introduced by the split-listing of African elephants, the apparent lack of effective control of existing legal markets and the expectation that legal trade may be introduced is a powerful combination of forces that seriously influences the global ivory market. 6.3 Parts and derivatives in trade
Ivory (raw tusks and worked), skin, leather, hair, meat and live specimens are all traded. The international trade ban is marked by many loopholes and ample room for evading its controls.
The signal sent by restoring all African elephant populations to Appendix I is expected to have a strong dampening effect on demand and a significant effect on the expectations of traders and processors who are key drivers of the market for ivory. This will bring about the desired objective of reducing illegal killing of elephants.