Monday, November 28, 2022

Botswana denies external influence in Elephant census ahead of CITES Conference

Botswana has dismissed as unfounded reports that the ongoing regional elephant census is open to manipulation by external sponsors looking to gain an upper hand at the coming CITES CoP-19 in Panama. 

Media reports suggest international sponsors opposed to ivory trade may use the census as an opportunity to manipulate the results to support their cause.

The Botswana government however says the ongoing elephant population census across the Kavango Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) will not have any bearing on Botswana (and Zimbabwe)’s current proposal for the sale of its ivory stockpile at CITES Cop 19.

Botswana and Zimbabwe are some of the SADC countries looking to refresh their bids to be allowed passage to trade their ivory stockpile following stern resistance from opponents earlier this year (2022) at the Elephant Summit, hosted by Zimbabwe in May.

“The current survey has nothing to do with the trade discussions to be held in Panama,” Botswana’s Director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Dr. Kabelo Senyatso has said.

Speaking to this publication Senyatso said the census is coordinated by the KAZA TFCA secretariat which exists solely to service the five KAZA TFCA member states (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe).

Responding to rumors that the census could likely be manipulated by international sponsors in a bid to influence a continued ban on the sale of ivory the DWNP Director said KAZA TFCA secretariat is directly supervised by the member states, and so are the projects it coordinates for the member states.

The survey, which commenced in August 22, 2022 will run until November 30, 2022, while the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP19) will take place in Panama from November 14-25, 2022.

The elephant census aims to determine the numbers and seasonal distributions of elephants, elephant carcasses, and other large herbivores in the KAZA TFCA landscape.

“There is no way that the KAZA TFCA secretariat could work against the very member states for which it exists to serve. The teams doing the actual counts (observers) and those to be involved in the data analysis, are officials of the wildlife authorities from the member states (including DWNP), so it is baffling to imagine that these wildlife officers would work against their own Governments. In view of the above, the concerns you refer to relating to ‘manipulation of figures by international sponsors’ are unfounded.”

Zimbabwean media this week raised concerns about the way the elephant census in the country is being conducted, making reference to “allegations” that funders of the exercise could manipulate figures in a bid to influence a continued ivory ban at the CITES CoP-19. 

“Foreigners have been employed to do simple tasks like data capturing. We have locals who can do that including ZimParks staff. The problem is Zimbabwe was arm-twisted to comply with the demands of foreign organisations because of money. Botswana refused to give them permits until they promised that local people would be hired for the exercise,” an article by Zimbabwean publication News Day reads.

“The survey is funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Paul G Allen Family Foundation, the German Federal Economic Co-operation and Development ministry through KfW, and the Dutch Postcode Lottery through the Dreamfund Project. Other partners in the project are USAid’s Combating Wildlife Crime in Namibia, the Kavango-Zambezi Area Project, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, the Environment and Protected Areas Authority of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates and the US Fish and Wildlife Service,” the article continues.

Botswana’s DWNP Director Senyatso said member states are financing the survey in terms of among others; (a) salary and living costs of ‘observers’ who do the actual counts of elephants in the field, (b) logistical support in terms of vehicles, securing airstrips used for the survey and other ground-support, and (c) seconding personnel (such as data managers and operation room technicians) to the survey operational room in Kasane (Chobe region, Botswana).

He however said the costs associated with remuneration of the coordination team, as well as some of the logistical costs such as air craft hire, aviation gas, lodging and meals are funded through a grant donation by Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

He said the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation has no say nor influence on the data analysis or results, but only fund the coordination unit, which he said is part of the KAZA TFCA secretariat.

“Given the complexity of the operation, an additional coordination team was recruited specifically to coordinate the logistics, which team is housed at the DWNP Kasane office. This operations room is provided rent-free by DWNP.”

The DWNP Director is part of a committee of wildlife directors from the five KAZA TFCA member states that supervise the project. “DWNP participated in the survey design, and also hosted the training of observers in Chobe National Park. We also contributed observers, data managers, and operation room technicians. Our scientists will also be part of the teams that analyze the data and interpret it for the publications that will emanate from the survey.”

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