Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

China MUST act, but AFRICA take the lead to stop ivory trade

China must act, but Africa take the lead to stop ivory trade

By Paula Kahumbu with Andrew Hallyday


Workers destroy confiscated ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP

Workers destroy confiscated ivory in Dongguan, southern Guangdong province, China, Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Photograph: Vincent Yu/AP


A major new study provides disturbing proof that the crisis facing African elephants is even worse than people imagined, driven by the exploding trade in illegal ivory in China.

The study, written by ivory market researchers Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin, and funded by Save the Elephants (STE) and the Aspinall Foundation, found that skyrocketing demand for ivory in China has sparked a booming trade in smuggled ivory. There are ever greater numbers of items on sale, carving factories, and legal and illegal retail outlets.

The expanding legal trade provides a perfect cover for laundering vast quantities of illegal ivory. The Chinese government is taking some measures to control the illegal ivory market, but it’s not doing enough. The situation is currently out of control.

The study concludes: “without China’s leadership in ending demand for ivory Africa’s elephants could disappear from the wild within a generation.”

This conclusion seems self evident. In fact this point has been made time and again. For example, an article published in Time magazine almost exactly a year ago concluded that if the Chinese authorities don’t act fast, we could be heading toward a future without elephants.

In the run-up to London summit on wildlife crime in February, I wrote “all eyes are on China” and in the aftermath suggested that we are losing to battle to save wildlife because “western leaders … don’t have the guts to take on China”.

What’s depressing is that so little has changed, despite the impassioned rhetoric of world leaders, high profile campaigns celebrities and British royals, and the sterling efforts of campaigning organisations like STE. To make change happen I suggest we need to challenge the notion of “China’s leadership” on two counts.

First, although Chinese action is essential to save Africa’s elephants, the leadership should come from Africa. While China may face a “conservation challenge” as stated in the title of the report, it is Africa’s elephants that are facing extinction.


Young demonstrators sit with a placard as they prepare to take part in the “Global March for Elephants and Rhinos” in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Young demonstrators sit with a placard as they prepare to take part in the “Global March for Elephants and Rhinos” in Nairobi, Kenya Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP

Unfortunately, despite growing civil society engagement with wildlife issues, so far few African leaders have demonstrated they are serious about taking action. One of them, President Khama of Botswana, recently asked me, despairingly: “Where is the pride of Africa? Why aren’t we setting the agenda here? It is we who have the elephants.”

A recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report made some highly publicised claims about involvement of visiting Chinese officials in ivory smuggling out of Tanzania. These claims were furiously – and unconvincingly – denied by Chinese authorities. What got less publicity was the much longer part of the EIA report analysing ingrained institutional corruption in Tanzania and the complicity of Tanzanian authorities in the illegal ivory trade.

Africans will not have the political or moral authority to make demands on the Chinese until we put our own house in order.

Secondly we have to stop thinking about “China” as a monolith – a single actor in the unfolding drama.

China is a highly complex society. The dynamic of ivory trade is driven by interactions among a wide range of actors. Political leaders, government officials, organised criminals, consumers and civil society organisations all contribute to the illegal ivory trade and attempts to control it in different ways. We need to understand their roles and target our actions and campaigns accordingly.

For example, was the ivory spending spree by the Chinese delegation in Tanzania sanctioned ‘from above’ or was it a case of lower-level officials getting out of control? In the first case, a high level diplomatic protest might be in order. But in the second case it might be more effective to engage with Chinese civil society organizations already combating corrupts officials at home.

Consumers who purchase ivory are also driven by different motives. The report suggests that “investors banking on continued rises in the price of ivory appear to be a significant factor in the recent boom, rather than buyers of traditional ivory carvings”.

This is important information. Buyers of handicrafts might well be swayed by awareness raising campaigns, but law enforcement is likely to be a more effective strategy against unscrupulous investors – and of course also against the organised crime networks that supply them.

Let’s be clear: China is also a highly centralised society. If the Chinese nation is contributing to the ongoing extinction of Africa’s elephants – as it is – the Chinese government deserves the lion’s share of the blame.

But, here again, we need to understand China better in order to know the best way to the influence Chinese authorities. China’s leaders are sensitive to pressure from foreign governments— and the hard evidence of reports by organizations like STE and EIA. It was notable that the first online report I found of the press conference in Nairobi today to launch the report was a long article in the South China Morning Post.

But Chinese authorities are also sensitive to pressure from an increasing confident civil society inside China. A recent visit to China by two young African activists, Christopher Kiarie of WildlifeDirect and Resson Kantai of STE, provided encouraging evidence of the potential for linkages between African and Chinese civil society organizations, to work together to increase pressure on the Chinese government to change.

A joined-up strategy led by Africans at all levels of society offers the best chance of success in these desperate times.



British elephant killers in Zimbabwe

Another shocking story from Melissa Groo at Save the Elephants deserves some discussion about the justification of this action. Please feel free to leave a comment, opinion or insult for the British Killers.

British kill entire elephant herd (Zimbabwe) 

Hunting parties are paying out thousands to kill elephants, including calves, in Zimbabwe

Daniel Foggo, The Sunday Times

January 18, 2009

BRITISH hunters, including a prominent Harley Street surgeon, have been paying the Zimbabwean authorities thousands of pounds each to take part in a mass elephant cull.

They are among groups of hunters who have been permitted to track and kill whole herds, including their calves, before taking photographs of themselves with the carcasses.

Rumours that Zimbabwe was culling its population of 80,000-100,000 elephants have been circulating for some time, but definitive proof that foreigners have been paying to be involved has emerged only now.

Elephant culls are highly controversial. They typically involve killing every animal in a herd, usually about a dozen strong, and they are condemned as brutal and unnecessary by many conservationists.

Supporters argue that the animals are destroying ecosystems by stripping whole areas of edible foliage and monopolising water sources, and that killing is the only effective method of population control.

Alternatives, such as habitat expansion, relocation and even the use of contraception, are proposed by wildlife campaign groups, but the hunters reject them as unworkable.

Peter Carr, a professional hunting outfitter from Yorkshire, took a party to the Hwange national park last year to cull a herd of 11 elephants, including some “adolescent” calves.

The game reserve, which is Zimbabwe’s largest at more than 5,600 square miles, is said to be home to about 50,000 elephants, more than double its capacity.

One of Carr’s party was Benjamin Chang, a British orthopaedic surgeon who is based in London’s Harley Street. He paid £5,600 to take part, most of which was passed on to the Zimbabwean park authorities.

Chang and Carr shot three elephants each. Unlike conventional trophy-hunters, clients taking part in culls are not permitted to keep any part of the elephant; but they are allowed to take photographs.

Ivory from slaughtered elephants has been legally sold by the Zimbabwean authorities to China and Japan. Last November, Zimbabwe sold nearly four tons of ivory in a one-off sale permitted under international law, for £330,000.

The British hunters, who used specialist rifles to kill the elephants, said shooting was the most humane method of killing, although sometimes more than one shot was necessary to dispatch an animal.

Elephant welfare campaigners were horrified. Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said: “These days it takes something pretty extraordinary to shock and distress as far as Zimbabwe is concerned. But news of the slaughter of elephants inside national parks still has the power to make you sick to your stomach.”

Michael Wamithi, the elephant programme manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said British hunters paying to kill elephants were unlikely to help Zimbabwean conservation efforts. “Because of the corruption and financial situation I would be surprised if anything at all reached conservation or communities,” he said.

However, Carr said he believed that the money would be used to help maintain the stability of the wildlife in the park.

Carr, author of a forthcoming book, Death in the Bush Veldt, which includes chapters on hunting elephants and other big game, said: “The elephants are slowly turning the land there into a desert. I consider myself a champion for elephants but they must be culled, although it’s such an awful word it makes the bunnyhuggers spit their dummies out.

“No one feels great after culling a herd: it is quite a sombre mood. You have to kill all of them – if any escape they can spread panic in other herds.”

Carr said the cull has been kept low-key. “I was asked last year if I could find clients to go over and shoot 100 elephants as part of the cull,” he said.

“I took one party over [including Chang] and had another 18 clients lined up, half of whom were British, but after that the reports of violence and unrest caused them to back out.”

The overall African elephant population has dropped from 1.3m in 1979 to about 500,000 today, but in some areas they are considered too numerous. South Africa is proposing a cull of elephants in Kruger national park for the first time since 1995.

In Zimbabwe starving people have resorted to killing elephants for food, and recent reports have suggested Mu-gabe’s soldiers are being given meat from carcasses.

Chang, 49, said it was right to use the elephants to feed the Zimbabwean people. “The meat goes to the village. They are queuing at the camp saying, ‘Please give us the meat.’ I was told one elephant will feed one village for 3½ months,” he said.

The hunter, who struck a thumbs-up pose for a picture of him astride an elephant he had shot, went on to shoot a lioness in South Africa. He defended the practice of foreigners paying to kill elephants. “The army could have done the cull themselves but they don’t have the right guns. You can’t use an automatic rifle, that would just be cruel,” he said.

Rich game

Big game hunting is a rich man’s pastime. Hunters must pay a fee to kill each animal, and are usually allowed to keep the skins as a “trophy”.

The so-called big five are the most popular prey. A bull elephant costs upwards of £6,500 and can be as expensive as £37,000. Lions cost between £8,000 and £15,000, buffalos from £6,000 and leopards between £8,000 and £15,000. White rhinos, which are often tranquillised with a dart rather than killed, start at about £5,000.

Article at the following link:


Thousands of ele’s killed to feed Zimbabwe army

This story today on Zimbabwe Online shocked and horrifies me.

Zim govt slaughters elephants for army

The state Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has since last week supplied elephant meat to army barracks across the country that have run out of food, our sources who are senior officers in the army said.

Zimbabwe is battling acute food shortages after successive poor harvests since 2000 while nearly a decade of severe economic recession has left President Robert Mugabe’s administration without hard cash to import food and other basics for the army and country.

Apparently, the government sees supplying elephant meat to soldiers as killing two birds with one stone as it enables it to cull excess animals while also ensuring its army has food, according to sources.

“Soldiers started eating elephant meat last week,” said a senior officer at Cranborne barracks, a few kilometers outside Harare city centre.

The senior officer, who did not want to be named because he did not have authorisation to speak to the press, said six elephant carcasses were last Friday delivered to the army barracks, adding that the meat delivery was a welcome relief.

Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi yesterday declined to comment on the matter or to discuss the availability of food at army barracks in general.

Parks director-general Morris Mutsambiwa yesterday would not take questions on the matter. Responding to questions from ZimOnline through his personal assistant, Mutsambiwa said: “I cannot comment on that issue at the moment.”

The army is credited with keeping Mugabe in power, always quick to use brutal tactics to keep public discontent in check in the face of an economic and humanitarian crisis marked by acute shortages of food and basic commodities, amid a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 1 700 people since August.

But a recession that began when the International Monetary Fund cut financial support to Harare in 1999 and which worsened following Mugabe’s controversial land reforms that destabilised the mainstay agricultural sector has gradually crippled the veteran President’s ability to keep the army well fed and happy.

For example, the army has, in addition to shortages of food, also struggled for basics such as boots and uniforms for troops while the bulk of military equipment and hardware is said to be ages old and in need of replacement.

Sources said for the better part of last year barrack canteens were serving only plain sadza (a thick porridge made of ground maize) because army authorities were unable to buy more food after funds allocated to the army were quickly exhausted mainly due to Zimbabwe’s runaway inflation.

Secretary for Defence Trust Maphosa last year told the parliamentary portfolio committee on defence and home affairs that the government was fortunate that it was not being sued by soldiers for failing to provide adequate and nutritious food to the army as is required by law.

In an unprecedented show of discontent, some soldiers last year rioted in Harare, assaulting civilians, stealing cash from street currency traders and looting shops.

However, analysts rule out the possibility of a military coup against Mugabe – at least for now – because all top commanders are still relatively comfortable.

But some say that worsening hunger could at some point force the underpaid ordinary soldier to either openly revolt or to simply refuse to defend the government should Zimbabweans rise up in a civil rebellion

Anthrax outbreak in Zimbabwe

I write this blog post with tears in my eyes, tears for the millions who are suffering in Zimbabwe. It was bad enough when these wonderful people had to accept a megalomaniac for president, rampant poverty, famine, hyper inflation, starvation and cholera – now there is an anthrax outbreak.

The outbreak has reported already killed three people in the Zambezi Valley though as usual this figure may be under reported,  this site suggests the human mortality is already 6, and that over 200 cattle have already died in Bulawayo. The disease threatens to wipe out livestock in northern Zimbabwe. Anthrax usually only afflicts livestock, but can be transmitted to humans who handle or eat infected animals consuming or inhaling the spores – watch a  film about how anthrax works here. Wildlife can also be affected and can be a reservoir of the disease. But it’s people who will die in Zimbabwe because starvation is leading parents to feed their children anthrax infected meat.


Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It can be used as a bio weapon.

Anthrax spores enter the body through wounds or the lungs where they produce a powerful toxin. Most infections occur by skin contact resulting in a raised itchy bump that looks like an insect bite. Within 1-2 days, it develops into a boil-like sore and then a painless ulcer with a characteristic dark (dying) area in the center. A skin infection can be treated, if not, 20% of patients die.  Infection by inhalation leads to cold-like symptoms that after several days progress to severe breathing problems and shock. Eating contaminated meat leads to infections of the intestinal tract and results in deaths of between 25 – 60% of those infected. The first signs are nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever, followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. It results in death in 1-2 days after the start of severe symptoms. Although with proper treatment, deaths from anthrax can be prevented, Zimbabwean cannot get medical attention. Hospitals are closed due to lack of water, equipment, materials and drugs. Doctors and nurse are running away to neighbouring countries. As a result, we are likely to see many more deaths to anthrax in coming weeks as starving people continue to eat infected cattle.

While anthrax is not contagious from person to person, or animal to animal, when it strikes anthrax can have devastating effects on livestock, humans and wildlife. According to this article “A massive outbreak of anthrax in the wildlife of the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe between August and November 2004 resulted in the death of almost all the reserve’s estimated 500 kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). Other species badly affected were nyala (Tragelaphus angasi), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) and roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus), which suffered losses of approximately 68 per cent, 48 per cent, 44 per cent and 42 per cent of their populations, respectively. Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) were also badly affected and although their population suffered only a 6 per cent loss, the numbers of deaths ranked second highest after kudu.” To the authors’ knowledge, this was the first record of anthrax in wildlife in Zimbabwe.

Every day the news from Zimbawe is unbelievably worse – how far down can a country go? Harare the capital city is currently without water, which has been cut off due to a shortage of purification chemicals in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of cholera which currently affects over 10,000 people and has killed over 400. South Africa and the World Health Organization are trying to halt the cholera epidemic and prevent it from crossing international borders. With all that attention on cholera, will they be able to cope with the anthrax threat as well?

As I write this I am in even greater disbelief that the leading party, Zanu-PF are impervious to the plight of their fellow citizens. Is it just me or is there a deafening silence about the suffering in Zimbabwe?

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Wire Snares: Nasty, Costly and Very, Very Wrong

I read Iregi Mwenja’s first installation in his two-part series called Painful Death and I was quite disturbed. Looking at the pictures of animals trapped and helpless, or dead and rotting, or – perhaps even worse – maimed, was very upsetting.

Snared Antelope

As if on cue, Rosemary Groom of Zimbabwe Wild Dogs finally gets a picture of a wild dog puppy that she has been told that it was moving around with a wire snare still tightly digging into the flesh of its neck and she posts a blog entry. I very well know that wire snares are the “weapons” of choice for many subsistence and small scale commercial poachers. But these nasty, stomach heaving photos jolt me to a stark reality that may have gone sublime in my mind. It just looks painful how these animals die.

Snared dog at waterhole

I try to be rational and unemotional when discussing wildlife crime. I try to remain level headed but this method of harvesting bushmeat is simply barbaric. And it peels off my gentlemanly, unemotional, rational skin to expose the painful bare flesh that is my emotions. It is hard not to get emotional when you see this kind of death.

Iregi Mwenja says that statistics indicate 90% of the dead animals will go to waste as the poacher will either forget where he put his snares or he’ll never go back to check on them. The meat will just rot away. Granted, wild carnivores will eat some of the meat, but that also may well be contained in the 10% that is eventually utilized.

Then Iregi follows this with another installation in the second part of his series. This one is loaded with statistics. Suddenly, I am aware that a single David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) de-snaring team can remove an average of 450 wire snares in a month – working only two weeks a month. That there are several DSWT teams. That there are other organizations apart from the DSWT – such as Born Free Foundation – that are also carrying out some heavy de-snaring work. I suddenly am confronted with colossal numbers, and my heart threatens to stop. Iregi explains:

Just one de-snaring DSWT team lifts approximately 450 snares [per] month operating for a maximum of two weeks per month. One poacher can set at least 100 snares per day with a success rate of about 20% and about 15-20 poachers enter the park per day. With a success rate of about 20%, and assuming that one poacher sets about 100 snares a day, then 15 poachers have a probability of killing at least 300 animals per day. This figure may seems to be unrealistic. But the number of snares lifted per day and the number of animals found dead and those rescued by the de-snaring teams is a true testimony of the magnitude of the bushmeat crisis.

It is shocking, but it is the result of scientific research in one corner of Tsavo East National Park (where DSWT conducts most of its de-snaring operations). I am left wondering what the national, regional and global statistics are like. I wince.

Wire Snares

Rosemary gives us a clue as to how much it would cost to get a wire snare out of a single wild dog pup’s neck in her blog post. Suddenly, there is money involved, and I shudder like someone forgotten inside the butcher’s cold room. She explains:

Unfortunately, until I have my wildlife immobilization license…we need to rely on someone else to come and do the darting, and he is not always available at short notice. There is also a considerable cost associated with calling him out and getting the pup immobilized (US$100 per day fee plus the cost of drugs and fuel and scout time), and the current prevalence of snaring is really eating into our budget. (Likewise, for me to do [an immobilization] course so I can immobilize the dogs myself, costs US$1500).

That is only part of the story. Organizations such as DWST, Born Free and the African Wildlife Conservation Fund (Zimbabwe Wild Dogs) invest thousands of dollars in de-snaring operations. The Zimbabwe Wild Dogs project is already groaning under the weight of snaring happening in Zimbabwe. And that is just one part of the once wildlife rich nation (hopefully there are still wildlife surviving the madness that is governance in Zimbabwe).

These are deadly statistics – and painful pictures – of how dire the state of wildlife in Africa is. The Zimbabwe Wild Dog project has an appeal. They need your help on saving this little puppy, the rare species of which it belongs and other wildlife in Zimbabwe. Right now I ask you to urgently help them save this particular dog by donating through their blog. And continue to help them whenever you can in the future.

I read a book once, titled “Who Will Feed China?” and in the same fashion I will ask, who will save Africa’s wildlife?

US Troops “Using Choppers to Poach in Somalia”

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but two websites are reporting that military helicopters are leaving the battleships anchored off the Somalia coast to combat Somali pirates, and getting into the mainland to hunt wildlife illegally .

According to a report published today in one of the websites (Garoweonline.com), foreign choppers, which the the local Somali elders have not properly identified, arrived in three separate days and left with live specimens of ostrich and deer. The choppers were later seen landing in warships offshore. Although the elders have not been able to infallibly identify whose warships these are, one was seen to be flying the American flag.

In the other site (Mareeq.com), a reporter, Abdi Guled – despite writing in very bad English – almost certainly believes that the choppers bear the American banner. According to Guled’s report, the local authorities in the pirate infested central Somalia region are colluding with the purported hunters. Apparently, the local chiefs have signed contracts with foreign agencies to transact this illegal business.

The report on Garoweonline says that a local elder in the Maduq region of central Somalia, Mr Mohamed Hussein Warsame, has been interviewed by reporters from the BBC Somali Service about the trade. I have searched for the report on BBC website but I have not yet found it. AllAfrica.com, an aggregator of African news has also carried the report from Garoweonline.

While these might be outrageous allegations, we cannot rule out the possibility of this happening. We have seen foreign military and work forces getting involved in illegal activities in their outposts before. We have all heard the Chinese workforce in Africa being blamed for the escalation of ivory poaching in DRC, Zimbabwe and other states with dysfunctional governments.

If indeed this is happening, then it would be quite a shame. I hope the alleged BBC reporters who have the story can publish it so we can quote from a source perceived to be less biased. A source with a global voice. I hope other independent or big media house journalist can do an independent investigation into that matter. As long as they don’t get kidnapped by Somalia gunmen.

Zimbabwe “Bartered Ivory for Guns”

Our fears that the one-off ivory auction by four southern Africa states to China and Japan was not going to end well may come true. Not that that is any cause for us to wear a smirk and say “we told you so”, but a time for us to ask CITES to open their eyes.

Ivory Stockpiles

There are reports in a Zimbabwean newspaper saying that Robert Mugabe’s government – cash strapped and hungry for foreign exchange to pay for imports – is planning to have the Chinese government pay for the ivory with guns Mugabe’s people ordered just before this year’s Zimbabwean presidential run-off. Apparently, Mugabe was facing an imminent end to his three-decade grip on power and decided to buy guns to wage war against the opposition should he loose the elections. The best place to buy these guns was from China since they are not participating in the arms embargo by western nations on Zimbabwe.

The report, published in the Zim Daily, indicate that part of the $480,000 Zimbabwe raised when they auctioned 3.5 tons of ivory last week is earmarked as payment for a cache of military hardware set to be flown into the capital Harare soon. The reports also indicate that in the run up to the ivory auction, “substantial quantities of high caliber weapons” had disappeared from the armory of Zimbabwe’s department of parks and wildlife near State House, Harare. During the same period, 200 elephants are reported to have been killed in the Zambezi Valley bordering Zambia. The Zimbabwe government blames this carnage on foreign animal rights groups which “want to thwart Mugabe’s bid to have CITES relax its trade rules”.

These reports have put the “fear of Mugabe” in conservationists who are now worried that Zimbabwe’s claim of being protector of the elephant is just a sham. Official Zimbabwe reports indicate that the country has 70,000 elephants in the wild, but experts think this is just window dressing by the government to get CITES to approve their proposal to sell all their alleged 20 tons of ivory stockpiles. The head of the wildlife department, Brigadier Albert Kanunga, a retired army officer, had lobbied CITES to allow them to sell 10 tons of ivory but only 3.5 tons were approved.

It is alleged that the ivory auctioned by Zimbabwe was flown out of Harare Airport on Thursday 6 November. If, then, the ivory for guns scam is true, the Chinese will bring Mugabe the guns sooner than latter. Apparently, an earlier shipping of Chinese military equipment bound for Harare had been turned away in the South African port of Durban. That could be the reason why China will fly in the new cache of arms.

Eight years ago in July 2000, a Nairobi based German wildlife conservation organization, ECOTERRA had revealed that Mugabe had sold 8 tons of ivory to China in exchange for firearms. According to the report on BNet website, the ivory had been flown out of Zimbabwe through Libya.

With such a record, it would be feasible to believe that last weeks CITES-backed auction will indeed be used to pay for more guns and ammo some of which – given the mysterious disappearance of arms from the wildlife department’s armory and consequent upsurge of elephant poaching- could be used in “harvesting” more ivory for Mugabe’s government. Which then negates the CITES claim that one-off sales will help elephant protection by reducing the attractiveness of poaching and investing the funds into conservation.

Moreover, Zambian and Senegalese middlemen operating in Zimbabwe organize underground deals through the “close-knit Chinese community” in South Africa to service the high demand for illegal ivory in China. This would imply that even South Africa, the allegorical “Big Brother” of Africa, is not fully in control of the ivory situation. In as much as Big Brother may have a tab of it’s own ivory stockpiles, they cannot rule out being used as a conduit for illegal ivory from tattered Zimbabwe. In short, the entire African continent is not ready for these – in Dr Richard Leakey’s words – ill advised one-off auctions.

In the end, what will save the elephant, in my view, is not how cheap ivory becomes – a la CITES – but how well we convince ordinary Chinese, Japanese and other Asian communities that they can practice their cultural beliefs without Ivory. Remove the demand for ivory and let the elephant roam the sunny grasslands of Africa without fear – like they did for millennia gone by. Legally selling government-held stockpiles will not kill demand.

Zimbabwe raises 450,000 dollars from ivory

Zimbabwe has just sold almost 4 tons of ivory for over $450,000 which they claim will go to the wildlife authority which is practically broke.

The auction of ivory that was sanctioned by CITES started in Botswana  on October 28. The United Nations’ Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) allowed the countries to sell elephant ivory in a one-off trade.

As we’ve mentioned before, to everyones surprise China was approved in July this year as a buyer of legally stockpiled ivory in Zimbabwe, Botswana. Namibia and South Africa. China was approved even though many believe that they do not have adequate means to address illegal domestic ivory trade and to regulate legal trade effectively.

I was especially surprised to read this quote from Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America – the wildlife trade monitoring network earlier this year in July.

“Now that China has been approved, it has an opportunity to assist African countries, particularly in Central Africa, where elephant poaching and domestic trade goes unchecked, to improve law enforcement capacity, and support conservation programmes,”

It seems terribly premature to state this …even with the ivory sales money, Zimbabwe cannot put elephants protection measures into place at the moment.

Now that Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have their dosh, it’s South Africa’s turn. They hope to raise R100-million this week, by selling 51 tons of elephant tusks, many of them from culled elephants. Namibia which has the lowest quality ivory (due to low humidity there) realized $150 per kg. If South Africa raises at least this amount per kg they will generate US $750,000 but it’s likely to be more.

Sounds like a lot of money for conservation until you recall that South Africa is not a poor country, with all those diamonds, coal and uranium etc this is small change. One cant help feeling that the glee on some faces is more to do to with winning an argument (that ivory should be sustainably used), rather than relief that a real problem has been solved. Nobody seems to be worried that these sales will put the burden of financing elephant protection in all other African elephant range states. Even if this money was given to other African states it would not make a difference, elephant ranges are notoriously difficult to protect especially when there is a thriving legal trade in a country like China that can bleach any ill gotten ivory.

It’s too late to cry now, but hopefully what these auctions will do is reignite the debate about the value of the ivory trade in this world to elephant conservation.  Is it just me or is there something insane about the lack of logic here. The fact is that the production of ivory trinkets threatens to decimate elephant populations in many parts of Africa and Asia. After spending more than 20 years working on this issue, I know I’ve got a very specific views. But I’m curious about what you think? Should we be legalizing ivory sales to generate funds to protect elephants?
Some people think that there is hope in the 9 year moratorium that will fall into place after the close of auctions. I recommend we all read  the small print, this moratorium is for these four countries only. I predict that Tanzania, Sudan, Congo, Zambia, Mozambie and possibly Angola will seek to sell their ivory stockpiles at the next CITES conference.

Moreover, I suspect that South Africa is likely to continue stockpiling ivory for future sales through it’s elephant culling program which was recently adopted through the new policy “norms and standards for elephant management” dealing with problem elephants in conservation areas.

Unlike elephants we humans seem to have short memories and have forgotten that we put a ban on ivory after we lost more than 80% of Africa’s elephants due to the ivory trade. The culprits were mainly in Japan and China – the same players are still in the game today.

Namibia Opens Bidding in Controversial Ivory Auction: Locks out media, NGO observers

Today, 28 October 2008, Namibia opened bidding for the 9 tonnes of ivory stockpiles it wants to auction in the controversial CITES backed one-off sale. The media has been shut out of this auction. According to a report appearing in the Namibian, a national paper, The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) never made an official announcement about the international auction. Most people would wonder if the government is ashamed or it’s trying to hide something.

Elephant in Kenya

Tonnes of applications and requests by international and national media houses piled into the Ministry’s in boxes but nobody was going to bother. When asked on Monday, the Deputy Environment and Tourism Minister Leon Jooste told media representatives that “It is too late to change the Ministry’s strategy with regard to the ivory auction.”

Local and regional conservation NGOs will also not be let into the auction. A request by the southern Africa office of the International Association for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to be allowed observer status was curtly rejected some two weeks ago. “The [MET] official just flatly denied us the possibility,” Christina Pretorius, Programme Manager of IFAW Southern Africa, is quoted as having told The Namibian on Monday.

Botswana will sell it’s 44 tonnes on Friday 30 October while South Africa, with the largest sale of 51 tonnes, and ZIMBABWE, 4 tonnes, will follow suit on 2 and 5 November respectively. In total, a whooping 108 tonnes of ivory will enter the market. The effect of this massive influx of ivory in the Chinese and Japanese markets, according to most conservationists, will be a corresponding increase in poaching to affect the rest of Africa. Traffic, the trade monitoring body under CITES however maintains that there is no evidence to support these allegations. Whatever happened to taking precautions?

The southern Africa states participating in this one off sale of ivory stockpiles first approved – in principle – by CITES in 2002, made $ 5-million in the last one off sale some 9 years ago in 1999. This year, according to the BBC, they expect to make $ 30-million – quite an increase occasioned just by the entry of China into the fray. They say this money will go towards elephant conservation. Traffic says that the ivory will not leave China and Japan into other markets. The two governments have promised to ensure that that does not happen but that is another story. There is evidence – overwhelming evidence – that illegal ivory trade is still alive and far outsells the legal trade.

The wisdom of this sale is quite questionable. If elephants are still endangered in most African states, then there is no logic really to let the sale of ivory – with the potential of fanning poaching – to anyone. Inasmuch as the data that Traffic presented does not show any increase in illegal trade, the fact remains that illegal trade will not go away just because the stockpiles have been sold and $30-million is injected into conservation (and this – if the money does indeed end up in conservation – will be in states where elephant populations are already growing).

Moreover, reports from Zimbabwe indicate that a large percentage of the wildlife has been eaten by desperate country folk or hunted illegally by unscrupulous safari hunting companies as the country’s governance sunk into an abyss. How can anyone justify allowing Zimbabwe to sell ivory? Besides, who knows when South Africa, Namibia and Botswana would end up with a dysfunctional government resulting in massive poaching and – perhaps – eventual extinction of elephants?

The insertion that selling these stockpiles will help conservation is myopic. This sale will only keep demand for ivory alive. And when the southern states have no more ivory to sell, who will feed China’s growing hunger for ivory? Is it not the rest of Africa where elephants are not properly protected? Is it not poaching?

One Kevin C from Taipei commenting on the BBC article puts things rather candidly:

Sounds like It is also a very good idea to sell drug stockpiles in police office. It will reduce the market value and make it less profitable to smuggle and produce it underground.

You are always welcome to have your say. This is a matter that needs all your input. Tell us what you think.

Ivory sales to begin over next 2 weeks

This is from the official CITES webstie Geneva, 24 October 2008 – it makes me feel ill

The Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Mr Willem Wijnstekers, will visit Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe during the next two weeks to supervise closely the ivory sales that the member States of the Convention agreed to in June 2007, in The Hague.

On the margins of the four ivory auctions, Mr Wijnstekers will also hold talks with Chinese and Japanese authorities, as well as traders, about the details of further supervisory activities of the Secretariat upon arrival of the ivory in those countries and thereafter.

The proceeds of the sales must be used exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programmes within or adjacent to the elephant range. The revenues are expected to boost the countries’ capacity to conserve biodiversity, strengthen enforcement controls and contribute to the livelihoods of the rural people in southern Africa. All this without affecting negatively African and Asian elephant populations.

Background information

Under an agreement reached in The Hague in 2007, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were authorized to make a single sale of a total of 108 tons of government-owned ivory. The following quantities of raw ivory registered by 31 January 2007 have been approved for sale: Botswana: 43,682.91 kg, Namibia: 9,209.68 kg, South Africa: 51,121.8 kg, and Zimbabwe: 3,755.55 kg.

Elephant populations of the four countries are in Appendix II of CITES, which means that, even though they are not necessarily now threatened with extinction, the trade in their products is strictly regulated. Recent studies concluded that over 312,000 elephants live in these four countries and that their number has increased in recent years.

The CITES Standing Committee, which oversees the implementation of CITES between the major conferences, gave the go-ahead to the one-off sale of ivory last July by approving China as the second importing country. Japan had been approved earlier.

Each sale is to consist of a single shipment per destination and may only go to China and Japan, whose internal controls on ivory sales comply with the required verification standards established by CITES for this one-off sale.

Between March and April 2008, the CITES Secretariat conducted missions to these four countries and verified that the declared ivory stocks had been properly registered by 31 January 2007; consisted solely of ivory of legal origin (excluding seized ivory and ivory of unknown origin); and had been marked according to CITES requirements. They also verified that their weights were in accordance with the relevant records. This involved the checking and comparison of computerized databases and thousands of paper records, as well as the physical inspection and examination of hundreds of randomly-selected tusks and ivory pieces. In each case, the findings of the audits were satisfactory.

The CITES Secretariat is monitoring the Chinese and Japanese domestic trade controls to ensure that unscrupulous traders do not take this opportunity to sell ivory of illegal origin.

The 2007 African agreement stipulates that after these shipments have been completed, no new proposals for further sales from the four countries concerned are to be considered by CITES during a resting period of nine years that will commence as soon as the new sales have been completed.