A war of words has erupted between Botswana and Kenya over control of the increasing number of the elephant population within the former’s boundaries, documents seen by the Sunday Standard show.

The war of words between the two African nations follow reports that a vote on sale of ivory was one of the topical issues to be discussed at the postponed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting scheduled to take place in May in Sri Lanka.

The Secretariat CITES has since announced the postponement of the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) following the bomb blasts that struck churches and hotels recently.

In a letter dated 17 December 2018, Botswana Director for Research and Strategy in the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Cyril Lucas reacted angrily to a letter from his Kenyan counterpart Patrick Omondi proposing to uplist Botswana’s elephant to Appendix I.

Currently Botswana’s elephant is listed under Appendix II.  Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants perceived to be threatened with extinction  while Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.

Taolo informed Omondi that “We wish to inform you of Botswana’s strongest objection to your proposal.”

“Firstly your proposal to uplist the elephant is based on assumptions rather than on actual fact. You have deliberately assumed that uplifting elephant to Appendix I will accord it maximum protection and you have not provided any justification,” he said.

Taolo added that “Actually the contrary may apply where uplisting to Appendix I where there is a total ban on the legal trade may actually stimulate greater demand for ivory.”

Continuing with his onslaught, Taolo said “Going through your proposal we note with concern your failure to make a case for uplisting of the Botswana population.”

He also stated that “You have rightly stated that the observed differences in our populations may be due to the use of different mythologies, however you conveniently go on to discuss the observed carcass ratios in other countries namely Angola and Zambia as if they were observed in Botswana.”

Taolo also accused Omondi of misrepresenting the elephant geographic extent in Botswana. “For your information Tuli Block where we have more than 1000 elephants is not in southern Botswana and please note that the elephants in Botswana have extended their range to the extent that the they are now found in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve in Ghanzi District and Kweneng District not far from the capital Gaborone,” said Taolo.

He said “You have stated that the Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) values for Southern African Africa have now reached 0.48 thereby admitting that the threshold has been reached.”

Taolo also informed his counterpart that “The PIKE values for the Chobe National Park which is our only Monitoring the Killing of  Elephants (MIKE)  site are at 0.21 and surely these should be clear indication that poaching in Botswana remains under control. Further please note that the increase in ivory in the hands of the BDF is not necessarily poaching as there are cases where animals suffer drought induced mortalities in the dry season.”

The documents show that Omondi had also stated that CITES policy is being “pulled in different direction allowing trade by Appendix II species.” Replying, Taolo said “It is our understanding of the CITES Convention that commercial trade is permitted for species in Appendix II. The Convention should not be used to punish those who have expended great effort to conserve their wildlife.”

Taolo said “the discrepancies in export and import records simply shows that parties record specimen differently and surely this cannot be used as a justification for uplisting the elephant. It is a minor issue that requires the cooperation of member states trading with one another to solve amicably.”

Taolo also informed Omondi “that our elephant numbers have been increasing over time to the point where they have extended their range to areas where they were previously not observed.”

“This has resulted in an exponential increase in cases of human wildlife cases. Lately there has been a steady increase in cases of human mortalities by elephants. Conservation of the continent’s largest elephant population comes as a great cost to the government of Botswana,” he said. Taolo said it would be counter-productive “for others to impose management reforms that have actually seen elephant numbers plummet in many parts of the continent. In conclusion we strenuously oppose any attempt to uplist population of Botswana to Appendix I…”

Botswana has recently joined forces with Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to open up ivory markets by being party to the proposal that was sent recently to CITES secretariat by the other three countries.

On its website, CITES stated that the countries which are parties to the international organization should have submitted their proposals before end of 24 December 2018.

In a proposal seen by Sunday Standard the southern African countries are calling for a number of amendments to certain controls by CITES.  The four nations want ivory trade restrictions to be relaxed to allow for trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes and trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations for Botswana and Zimbabwe and for conservation programmes for Namibia and South Africa.

They also propose that there should be trade in hides, trade in hair, and trade in leather goods for commercial or non-commercial purposes for Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and for non-commercial purposes for Zimbabwe.

They further want to trade in ivory with only to trading partners that have been verified by the Secretariat, in consultation with the Standing Committee, to have sufficient national legislation and domestic trade controls to ensure that the imported ivory will not be re-exported and will be managed concerning domestic manufacturing and trade.