Sustainable solutions

Mohammed Valli Moosa
puts the case for allowing a limited trade in ivory and elephants

Across the world there has been a competition between people and animals for land. In the developed world, animals lost this war centuries ago; but in the developing world the battle is not lost and we hold the hope of a solution that understands the close proximity in which we live.

We in the Republic of South Africa – like our neighbours in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe – have had a measure of success in conserving the African elephant. The herds in the Kruger and Addo Elephant National Parks alone are currently growing at nearly 7 per cent and 5 per cent per annum respectively.

Now, at the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), we propose transferring our African elephant population from Appendix I to Appendix II to allow the South African National Park to sell part of its stockpile of ivory and elephant hides, and allow for a limited trade in live elephants.

The South African proposal follows the provisions of Resolution Conference 10.10, that was adopted at the Harare COP of CITES in 1997 allowing Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to sell specified amounts of raw ivory from their ivory stores that emanated from natural mortality or problem animal control.

Each of the successful sales late last year by our three neighbours was managed as a one-off deal to a single buyer and was scrutinized by CITES so that concerns, such as illegal ivory being slipped into the legal consignments, could be closely monitored.

Cautious route
In its provisional assessments of the sales, the CITES Secretariat reported that ‘one of the strongest aspects of the unprecedented trade control system adopted by COP10 in 1997 is exactly that only registered stocks of verifiable origin could be exported’. South Africa has followed these developments closely because we believe that the cautious route adopted at COP10 might provide us with a way to conserve our African elephant populations in a sustainable way.

Our elephant population is growing steadily to the extent that the growth in herds is starting to put strains on the biodiversity of some areas. According to 1999 surveys, the current elephant population of Kruger is 9,152 of our approximately 12,000 African elephants in protected areas. Current estimates have established that the ideal population for Kruger is only 7,000.

Other avenues have been explored and over the past two decades 1,626 elephants have been translocated to other protected areas.

Our proposal to COP11 is an attempt to find a way to conserve our gains while at the same time gathering the financial resources that will allow us to manage our elephant populations more effectively and efficiently. Subject to strict conditions, the proposal to downlist is to allow for:

  • Trade in the experimental quota of approximately 30 tonnes of whole tusks of government-owned stock originating from Kruger National Park.

  • Export of live animals for re-introduction purposes into protected areas formally proclaimed in terms of legislation of the importing country only.

  • Trade in hides and leather goods.

  • Trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes.

  • And that all other specimens will be deemed to be part of the species in Appendix I and trade in them will be regulated accordingly.
Kruger currently has 32,113.24 kilograms (kg) of ivory and 152,099.90 kg of hides in its stockpile. According to the inventory, the origin of 305.30 kg of the ivory is unknown, while 285.21 kg were seized or confiscated, and therefore are not part of the proposal. Of the rest it is estimated that about 27,971.25 kg will be suitable for sale as some tusks are broken.

The majority of the stockpile (14,492.29 kg) is from natural mortality. The total value of the elephant products in the stockpile at current prices is estimated at about R25.91 million.

If our proposal is accepted, the proceeds from the sale would be used for:

  • The monitoring and research necessary to implement the new elephant management programme in the Kruger National Park. This programme will help to determine best practice in the management of elephant populations in protected areas.

  • Increased monitoring and control of illegal hunting of elephants, especially intelligence networks.

  • Creating protected areas sufficiently large for elephants to be re-established in parts of their former range (for example the proposed transfrontier area that will link Kruger with Gaza in Mozambique and Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe).
We expect to face the opposition that was raised in Harare: that downlisting could lead to an increase in poaching and illegal trade. But the information available does not substantiate these fears.
The best way to combat illegal trading is to undermine it through legal trade

MIKE, the system to monitor the illegal killing of elephants in the range states following COP10, has not picked up links between the Harare decision and an increase in illegal killing. Moreover, the anti-poaching measures that are in place in South Africa ensure that illegal hunting is not a problem.

Beyond bans
Our proposal is the search for a sustainable way in which we can continue to conserve the African elephant within effective systems of trade regulation and law enforcement.

The greatest threat to wildlife is habitat loss, and unless steps are taken to ensure that wildlife habitat is secure, no amount of trade bans will prevent a rapid increase in species losses in the new century.

Our colonial past not only alienated Africans from their land but also from wildlife and its rich economic and cultural heritage. One of the contributing factors of the various poaching epidemics that have afflicted Africa in the past 30 years has been this lack of access to the wildlife resource.

CITES recognizes the beneficial effects of legal trade in a wide variety of species, and the assessments of the CITES Secretariat over the year are proof of this.

Let us not forget that illegal trading does continue to threaten our wildlife, but the best way to combat it is to undermine it through legal trade, and to address the equity issues that underpin wildlife protection. South Africa is proposing to sell a limited quantity of ivory and hides that will address both these issues  

Mohammed Valli Moosa is Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Republic of South Africa.

PHOTOGRAPH: Gerald Hinde/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Critical crossroads | Genetically engineered crops... | Sustainable solutions | Protect elephants | Getting it together | CITES: 2000 and beyond | At a glance | Competition | Interpol alert | Deep waters, high stakes | Tall trees and bottom lines | Globalizing solutions | Global Biodiversity... | Walking on the wild side... | Voices of the Earth | Millennium massacre

Complementary articles in other issues:
D. J. de Villiers: Beyond attractive destinations (Tourism) 1999
Shaun Mann: Uganda’s opportunity (Tourism) 1999