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Africa Divided Over Elephant Management, Trade

FILE: Elephants cross a road early morning, outside the Hwange National Park, Hwange, Zimbabwe, on May 26, 2022.
FILE: Elephants cross a road early morning, outside the Hwange National Park, Hwange, Zimbabwe, on May 26, 2022.

African heads of state attending a global wildlife summit in Panama, remain divided over the management of the continent's elephant population. Some are pushing for a total ban on trade in elephant products, while others want relaxed measures.

Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Mali and Senegal want CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to elevate African elephants to the highest listing, which would prohibit the hunting of the animals.

But countries of SADC - the Southern Africa Development Community - led by Botswana and Zimbabwe, are pushing for greater freedom to trade in elephant products, including a one-off sale of ivory stockpiles.

“Our call and plea to further parties that are involved with CITES is for them to show that SADC, as the area that supports the highest number of elephants needs to have a greater voice in directing how these resources are used and traded,” said Kabelo Senyatso, Botswana’s director of Wildlife and National Parks.

He said southern African countries will present a common position on the management of elephant species across the region.

CITES functions as an international agreement between governments, aiming to ensure international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.

Botswana-based conservationist, Neil Fitt says changes are necessary within CITES to accommodate evolving conservation challenges.

“I do think it needs a total rethink, in how it is structured and how it operates. Things have changed over the last 50 years,” Fitt said.

Elephant populations in most African countries are on a decline due to poaching and lack of habitat, but in southern Africa the numbers are increasing, standing at more than 220,000, according to conservationists.

“It’s always a hot topic driven this time by more northern African countries, as opposed to southern African countries, as opposed to the rest of the world which has been driving different aspects of it,” Fitt added.

He says the push by other countries to elevate the listing of elephants to Appendix I, banning hunting and trade, might not see the light of the day.

"I don’t think it will go through; we need to have some elephants on Appendix I and some on Appendix II.”

The trade in shark fins, turtles and other threatened species are also expected to be tabled at the global wildlife summit, while also focusing on the spread of diseases such as COVID-19.

This year, CITES is happening in the shadow of two major United Nations conferences with high stakes for the future of the planet and all of its inhabitants: the COP27 climate meeting currently underway in Egypt and the COP15 conference on biodiversity in Montreal taking place in December.

The 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties at CITES began Monday. The conference runs through the Nov. 25.

Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse.