African nations from Senegal to Botswana will seek to formulate a continent-wide position on the trade in live elephants and ivory, an attempt to counter restrictions imposed by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.
Opposition from Western conservationists to population control has seen their numbers explode in some areas, resulting in environmental damage and attacks on farmers, according to some African governments. The issue will be discussed at a meeting of environment and tourism ministers from 14 countries in Zimbabwe from May 23 to 26. Japan and China, two key markets for elephant products, will also be represented by their ambassadors to Zimbabwe.
While the overall population of African elephants has declined, with poaching rampant in many areas, their numbers have swelled in Zimbabwe and neighboring Botswana. Together with other southern African countries, they’ve demanded an easing of the curbs and the right to do as they please with their elephants and ivory stockpiles.
“We want to make sure we build consensus among African countries when we speak on elephant conservation,” Tinashe Farawo, head of communications for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management, said in an interview. “This is especially ahead of CoP 19 in Panama,” he said in reference to the next meeting of CITES in November.
The gathering of the African ministers will take place in Zimbabwe’s northwestern national park of Hwange on the edge of the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area—an area bigger than Spain that spans five countries and is home to more than half of the world’s African elephants. A consensus position may be hard to reach, with invitee Kenya having repeatedly demanded a total ban on trade in elephant products.
While the World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are only 415,000 African elephants, compared with 10 million in 1930, their population has been growing rapidly in southern Africa, home to 293,000 of the animals. African elephants consist of two subspecies, savanna elephants which roam plains and the lightly wooded savanna of southern and east Africa, and smaller forest elephants, which live in the tropical jungles of west and central Africa.
Most African elephants are currently included in Appendix I of CITES, which limits trade in all products derived from the animals. The elephant populations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are included in Appendix II, which is less restrictive, but a special annotation deems their ivory untradeable.
Zimbabwe has estimated that its ivory stockpile alone is worth $500 million.
“We have other regions outside Africa who are fighting that elephants should be in Appendix 1, whereby there won’t be trade of anything to do with elephants,” Barbara Rwodzi, Zimbabwe’s deputy tourism minister, said on Twitter.