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Ivory trade ban: Zim consults amid threats of Cites pullout

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THE Zimbabwean government is currently making consultations on how to deal with a ban on its sale of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), amid fears the country may decide to pull out of the wildlife bloc.

BRENNA MATENDERE

The development follows failure by Harare to lobby for the lifting of the ban at the 19th Cites conference held in Panama City from 14 to 25 November 2022 after concerted efforts to seek support from foreign nations early this year.

Zimbabwe went into the conference expecting to push for measures that would result in international support for permission to sell its stockpile of ivory amounting to over US$600 million after the country was banned in 1989 from trading by Cites, the global body that monitors endangered species.

 The Cites ban was meant to stop the wanton slaughter of endangered species like elephants and rhinos mostly by criminal syndicates with government connections. The ban, according to Cites, was supposed to result in an increase in the population of the endangered species, especially the African elephant.

In May this year, officials from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority showed ambassadors from European Union countries the stockpile of ivory tusks they claimed had been seized from poachers and collected from elephants that died.

The Zimbabwean officials appealed to European and other countries to support the campaign at the Cites conference for the sale of the ivory, but the plan went up in smoke.

At that time, the Zimbabwean authorities claimed the country had 130 tonnes of ivory and between six and seven tonnes of rhino horns, but it was largely believed that the figures were in fact understated.

 Envoys from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the United States viewed the ivory tusks in heavily guarded vaults in Harare.

 However, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, while briefing journalists on a report presented to cabinet by Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu last week, said all proposals made by Zimbabwe at the Cites conference were rejected. In an exclusive interview, Minister Ndlovu (pictured) told The NewsHawks the government was now seized with consulting stakeholders on the way forward.

“The decision regarding how to deal with the continued ban for trade of our ivory is yet to be made. We are still consulting on the way forward, but at the end of the day it must be known that we are really worried by the ban.”

“The animals that have the ivory are ours and we must ordinarily be making choices over what we get from them, but with the current ban we cannot do anything,” he said.

Asked whether the government could arrive at a decision that can see the country pulling out of Cites, Ndlovu said: “Answering that question directly will be tantamount to pre-empting what is being discussed at the moment. What I can just say is that we are still making consultations on our future in Cites and sale of the stockpiles of ivory that we have,” he said.

Ndlovu confirmed that Cites was the premier wildlife organisation that could impose serious sanctions on Zimbabwe if it pulled out such as isolating the country, but he insisted that consultations were still being made on how to deal with the current moratorium on ivory trade.

“We need to sell our ivory so that we use the money to help us in our wildlife conservation programmes, but like I said the ban is affecting us and there is need for a decision to be made after wideranging consultations,” said Ndlovu.

At last month’s Cites conference, Zimbabwe proposed an amendment to the voting procedure to assign several votes per representative proportionate to the population size of the species under discussion or whose status is subject to voting.

Some countries supported the proposal which was however rejected overally following a vote. Harare also proposed to remove the requirement that Zimbabwe’s elephants listed on Appendix II can only be traded to “acceptable” destinations.

 The proposal had 15 members in favour, 83 against and 17 abstained. The proposal on establishing a Rural Communities Committee received no consensus from members and an inter-sessional working group was set up to consider the issue and make recommendations to Cites.

Zimbabwe, in conjunction with Botswana, Namibia, Cambodia and Eswatini submitted a proposal to include consideration of livelihoods and food security, but this was also rejected.

Foreign Affairs minister Frederick Shava this week also tried to push for the lifting of the ban on Zimbabwe’s ivory trade at the just-ended United States-Africa Summit, but his pleas again failed to elicit support. Sources this week maintained in interviews with The NewsHawks that the needless destruction of prime wildlife habitat for endangered species by top government officials and their cronies has largely haunted Zimbabwe in its bid to lobby Cites.

There is currently chaos in the Sebakwe Basin near Kwekwe where prominent citizens with state collusion have invaded the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy (MBRC) and the nearby Sebhakwe Recreational Park.

MBRC has eight black rhinos, with an unknown number of animals also coming in to browse from adjoining game parks in the vicinity. Twin Springs Farm, which forms part of the MBRC, is now occupied by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s brother Patrick and businessman Douglas Kwande whose wheat farming activities are threatening the existence of wildlife species including sable, wildebeest, zebra and giraffe.

The black rhinos are also now in danger. In previous interviews, the two defended their invasion and said it is for the good of the nation as they will be able to boost wheat production and avert national hunger.

On the other hand, more eminent people have invaded Chinyika range which forms part of the MBRC and they include Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa David Douglas Hamadziripi, and permanent representative to the United Nations Chitsaka Chipaziwa, among others.

Elephant, kudu, eland, impala, bushbuck, wa terbuck, buffalo, hippopotamus, wild dog, leopard, cheetah, brown and spotted hyena are found in the MBRC as a whole, but the wildlife is at great risk due to the invasion of the conservancy which has reduced habitat land and increased cases of poaching.

 Millions of dollars invested in the wildlife conservation in the past 35 years at the sanctuary are likely to be lost as a direct result of the actions of the bigwigs. Save Foundation of Australia and Sebhakwe Black Rhino Trust have made significant donations to the conservancy to build it into what it is, but the illegal settlements could see the investments going down the drain.

The Parks and Wildlife Act (Chapter 20:14) prohibits human settlements or agricultural activities in conservancies, unless with the express authorisation of an Act of Parliament. At present, no such law has been promulgated to legalise the settlements, not even a fleeting statutory instrument.

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