HWANGE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s government recently concluded a conference to attempt to rally international support for the sale of its ivory stockpile. It argues that selling some of the 136 metric tons of elephant ivory and rhino horn that it’s holding — mostly from animals that died of natural causes — could fund its conservation efforts.
Critics say one-off sales in 1999 and 2008 authorized by CITES, the global convention on the wildlife trade, resulted in a sharp escalation in illegal killing and poaching of elephants across Africa, and that legalizing the ivory trade could drive African elephants to extinction.
Africa is home to two species of elephants: forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are found in the forests of Central Africa, while the larger and better-known savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) are found across Southern and East Africa, with small remnant populations remaining in West Africa. A third elephant species, Elephas maximus, is found in Asia.
Elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in huge numbers for more than a century. According to global conservation authority the IUCN, elephant populations across Africa fell by around 111,000 in the decade from 2006-2016, primarily due to a wave of poaching, with elephants killed on a scale that had not been seen since the 1970s and ’80s.
Trade in elephant parts has been prohibited by CITES since 1989, but Zimbabwe, with support from Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, and Zambia, plans to call for the lifting of the ban on trading ivory at the upcoming CITES meeting in Panama in November. The government is making the case that selling off its ivory stockpile will generate revenue for conservation and community development, at a time when the national budget is constrained and the COVID-19 pandemic has further reduced tourism and hunting income.
Lead Image: Elephants in Zimbabwe. Image by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
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