Botswana has remained mum on the value of its ivory stockpile despite a desperate campaign to have a decades long ban on sales by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lifted.
Although experts have questioned the true value of its stockpile, neighbouring Zimbabwe have valued their ivory stock at $600 million.
Speaking to Sunday Standard following the Elephant Conference in Hwange, northern Zimbabwe last week the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Director Dr. Kabelo Senyatso said the decision not to disclose the size of the country’s ivory stockpile was premised on security concerns.
“I can’t tell you how much stock we hold,” Senyatso said. “I can’t divulge that for security reasons. Has Debswana ever told you how much [diamonds] they hold in their vaults? Why then would you expect that I tell you how much I hold in my vaults ?,” he asked rhetorically, drawing an analogy between ivory and diamonds.
The DWNP Director has maintained Botswana’s position on the lifting of the ban remains.
“Our position remains unchanged in that we have always advocated for permission to legally trade in the ivory.”
Speaking at the Conference Senyatso was also quoted as having criticized CITES for not being inclusive enough to accommodate the people at the centre of human, wildlife conflict.
“When you look at how CITES is at the moment, the very people that bear the biggest brunt of living with the wildlife are not at the table. It is amazing that even governments are struggling to be at the table because unfortunately it’s particularly western NGOs that are dictating the direction CITES should take.” Senyatso maintained this stance in an interview with Sunday Standard.
“The people around the CITES table are mostly western NGOs and not Africans and other developing nations who suffer the most negative impacts of living in close proximity with dangerous animals such as elephants.”
African countries have appealed for support to be given an opportunity for an once-off sale of their current ivory stockpile which sale has been banned since 1989 by CITES, the international body that monitors endangered species.
They have cited environmental as well as human/wildlife conflict concerns which they attribute to over population of elephants.
The concerned governments believe this is an opportune time to make a once off sale which funds they say will be used to sustain conservation efforts. Zimbabwe have said their current elephant population of about 100,000 has exceeded carrying capacity which they say is approximately 55,000. Proceeds from the sale of the current stock, Zimbabweans have said, would be enough to fund conservation efforts for 20 years.
Botswana joined her neighbours Zimbabwe and Namibia in 2019 requesting for the right to sell ivory acquired through natural deaths, confiscations and culling. The demand was however rejected by a CITES meeting in Geneva.
Zimbabwe, particularly, has threatened to quit CITES due to frustration over the continued ban. The government argues the decision to maintain the ban is political, not scientific. “Zimbabwe’s economy is currently bleeding,” an expert has said in support of the need to lift the ban. “When Zimbabwe sees the stockpile they see money,” the expert said during a closed meeting with regional journalists ahead of the Conference. The issue of Sovereignty has also been raised as the concerned African countries continue to grow frustrated with the ban.
An expert opposed to the lifting of the ban has however said the countries have to find alternative ways to fund conservation saying it is clear that finance is the major driver for the campaign against the ban.
“To say the countries have too many elephants is too simplistic,” the expert told regional journalists recently. He said there was no evidence linking human/wildlife conflict to over population of elephants. “The cause of the deadly encounters cannot be attributed entirely to the population of elephants.” Another expert questioned whether the funds from the sale of ivory would really fund conservation efforts. Botswana’s Director of Wildlife, Senyatso insists however that the money goes directly to conservation and affected communities.
“Ivory sale funds were put in a Conservation Trust Fund (CTF) from which communities from the elephant range can apply for up to BWP1 million for their projects,” he has said.