Zim loses ivory battle

HARARE - Zimbabwe's plans to sell off its ivory suffered a huge blow yesterday after members of the global wildlife trade body voted against the country’s proposal.

Zimbabwe was lobbying together with South Africa and Namibia.

“(The meeting) votes in committee against proposals of Namibia and Zimbabwe to allow international commercial trade in their elephants,” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) said in a statement.

This was after the countries, which boast of healthy elephant populations, had lobbied for the right to sell off stockpiles accrued from natural deaths and poaching seizures to fund projects in communities close to elephants.

Zimbabwe has a stock pile of $9 billion worth of ivory that can help boost the country’s ailing economy when liquidated.

International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, but legal domestic markets have continued in some countries around the world, and Cites has twice allowed sales of African ivory stockpiles to Japan and China, in 1999 and 2008.

In its argument this year, Zimbabwe had noted that no country can negotiate away its right to negotiate, while Namibia said Cites has failed to uphold an important element of that 2008 compromise agreement.

However, in the two secret ballots, the proposals by Namibia and Zimbabwe were heavily defeated.

The vote comes a day after countries from around the world called for a closure of domestic ivory markets and backed the Cites-led National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) process.

“The decision to maintain the existing ban on international ivory trade was the right one for elephants,” WWF Head of Delegation to Cites CoP17 Ginette Hemley said.

She added that African elephants are in steep decline across much of the continent due to poaching for their ivory, and opening up any legal trade in ivory would complicate efforts to conserve them.

“It could offer criminal syndicates new avenues to launder poached ivory, undermining law enforcement, and would undercut efforts to reduce the consumer demand that is driving the mass poaching,” Hemley said.

Initiated at the last Cites Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Bangkok in 2013, the NIAP process currently involves 19 countries most implicated in the illegal ivory trade chain, including 12 in Africa and seven in Asia.

The latest development is also likely to compound Zimbabwe’s economic challenges as the country requires at least $13 million annually to secure the stockpile and a couple of million dollars more to track and monitor its 82 092 elephants.

Environmental experts say earnings from ivory will help in controlling Zimbabwe’s huge elephant herd — Africa’s second largest — which has often times destroyed food crops and vegetation.

“After hours of gruelling negotiations behind closed doors, WWF is very pleased to see that countries have now united behind a deal that strengthens the national ivory action plan process, which is absolutely central to the global fight against the illegal ivory trade,” WWF Global Wildlife policy manager Colman O Criodain said.

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