Heat intensifies over ivory trade ban

Local wildlife authorities are frantically lobbying diplomats and other supporters to back them as Botswana prepares to partake in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting later this month.

Botswana and others from southern Africa is up against West African states that are pushing for a ban on Botswana’s elephant trophy hunting. Botswana has received quite a bad rap over its stance to support trophy hunting as a means of income for communities living oin wildlife areas.

CITES is an international body binding 184 states to agreements on the trade and protection of endangered plants and animals. It is a multilateral treaty formed in 1977 to ban and regulate the trade of international animal wildlife and plant species.

Botswana acceded to CITES in 1977 when the Convention came into force, and at the time, Botswana was categorised in the First Appendix, for animals that are not for trading, because elephants were threatened by extinction at the time.

The upcoming Conference of Parties (CoP) is CITES’ highest decision-making meeting held every three years, where countries frequently clash over proposals to tighten or loosen trade in various animals and plants.

Botswana has indicated that it will it not hesitate to pull out of CITES, and when addressing a press conference in Gaborone earlier this year, Director, Department of Wildlife Management and National Parks, Kabelo Senyatso said that Botswana is at wits end regarding ivory trade and the management of wildlife, particularly elephants, and while the decision could be effected by President Mokgweetsi Masisi, it is something that key stakeholders have been discussing and agreed on.

Senyatso said if Botswana leaves CITES, the country could take the risk and try to operate out of the body and sell to the Asian market (which is the biggest) to countries such as China and Japan. “We believe that if there is a huge black market then there are also opportunities for legal trade,” he said then.

He also said that during their consultations with stakeholders including communities living in elephant range, community organisations and non-state actors such as safari operators, NGOs, academic institutions and independent researchers who are working or have worked in Botswana - the general consensus had been that action has to be taken considering that the elephant population has grown triple since 1990."

Senyatso added that the objective of the Botswana Elephant Management Plan of 2021-2026 includes the sustainable use of elephants and to try to reduce the numbers to at least 60,000, and to also ensure the maintenance of biodiversity and woodlands, and emphasised that resolving human-elephant conflict is the core priority under the management plan.