Key elephant range states, among them Botswana, which were gathered for a Elephant Conference failed to resolve the continental elephant trade stalemate as only seven out of sixteen representatives from Southern, Central, Eastern and Western African countries were in attendance. Ministers and government officials who attended were mainly from southern African countries of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe as well as key non-state actors such as AWF, IFAW, IUCN, WWF.
The conference was a precursor to the CITES 19th Conference of Parties (CoP 19), scheduled for November, 2022, in Panama. The tone of the meeting suggested that although there was consensus on the need “for Africa to speak with a unified voice in international fora,” divisions are still rife as countries such as Kenya which is famed for its vast wildlife opposes ivory trade. Rwanda, Senegal and Kenya did not send any representatives to the conference.
While Botswana has not officially endorsed and adopted the Hwange Declaration on the Conservation of the African Elephant, countries which were in attendance are of the view that there is need to review the CITES convention. “The Conference agreed that current CITES decisions are no longer scientific based but based on votes and emotions. As such there is need to review the convention and ensure it serves its intended purpose,” reads part of the communique. Other resolutions included the need to have “community involvement in elephant conservation at the national, regional and international levels” and also to ensure that “the voices of communities that co-exist with wildlife must be included in decision making because they bear the brunt of living with wildlife.”
While there was a general agreement that they would be going to the CITES meeting in Panama as a united front and would reject impositions from countries which do not have elephants, it is not clear how these countries will stand up to CITES when they are not united as a bloc.
CITES is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. In its early days, CITES was credited for its conservation and sustainable development dogma, but this has since changed. Former CITES president, Eugène Lapointe once said the treaty has become too politicised and the decisions they make only serve to enrich Western-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
While the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report which listed Africa’s Savannah elephants as endangered and its forest elephants as critically endangered, Botswana is estimated to have the largest elephant population in the world at 130 000.
Earlier this year, the partner states of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) announced the launch of a census which will shed light on elephant population in southern Africa. Botswana is part of the KAZA which is situated in a region of Southern Africa where the international borders of five countries converge namely Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Our Coordinating Ministries represent the Republics of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe where this survey will be conducted. This is a demonstration of our concerted efforts to implement the KAZA Treaty, which calls for regionally integrated approaches towards harmonizing policies, strategies, and practices for managing shared natural resources straddling the international borders of KAZA Partner States,” said KAZA in a statement.
President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi has over the years said that human/wildlife conflict, particularly pertaining to elephants, needs immediate attention.