By Bame Piet
A few days after the famous London Conference on illegal hunting of wildlife in Africa BAME PIET caught up with the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama at the National Assembly.
The Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, without hesitation, revealed that the sale of ivory in 2008, sanctioned by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) brought catastrophic excitement that prompted a swell in elephant poaching.
Khama says that the sale triggered a demand in ivory, prompting poachers to work hard to satisfy the high demand of the product, which is in scarce supply.
“Up until 2008 there was no sale of ivory, then CITES agreed to do the limited sale. After that limited sale the problems started. The demand shot up. That is what we are dealing with today. Nobody knew how long the sale was going to last, so there was excitement,” Khama said.
He says Botswana currently has over 200,000 elephants, but the CITES convention, to which Botswana is a signatory, does not allow the sale of ivory stockpiles. This means that Botswana will not sell any fraction of its stockpiles, the volume of which the minister would not disclose, though he supports the ban.
“I personally am against the sale of stockpiles of ivory because it is bigger than just saying ivory stockpile. It is not like oil. If we say that oil is a pollutant, therefore we should not use oil, those countries that mine oil will then say we have a natural resource that we can derive a livelihood from. The cost of getting oil is not as easy as poaching for a task,” he said.
He said the common argument is that nations should benefit from their natural resources be it wildlife, oil, or minerals but these resources should be looked at differently. He says there may be controversy surrounding oil companies, but with ivory it is totally different. Tshekedi maintains that Botswana has properly taken care of its ivory stockpile that has never been smuggled to the black market.
“Once our ivory is in the ivory store it is not removed. I can’t say the same about other countries. For instance, Chad at some stage had 50,000 elephants but today they have 1,500.
He said the fact that China, Phillippines Malaysia and Vietnam are the chain through which the ivory is channeled does not mean that they come to Africa to get it. He said it is Africans who take it to them because there is a reward for it. “I’m saying who encouraged the Africans to take the ivory out,”. He said that the buyer/end-user should not be blamed for the poaching crime, but also the poacher or producing countries. Though the CITES convention does not allow sale of ivory for monetary reward, Tshekedi says other options can be exploited rather than destroying ivory stockpiles.
“We need to strengthen law enforcement and fight corruption”. He said for this ivory to leave the forests or animal parks to airports or seaports involves corruption. “We proposed to the London Conference to reward the countries that look after their stock, then provide a solution to the movement of ivory,” he says. Tshekedi said that if ivory was well taken care of then there would be no movement of the product, adding that it should be kept out of economical use.
He pointed out that there was need for proper management of elephants with the aim to increasing their number. The cost of ivory has gone up because of its shortage in market.
“As long as we can manage the population of elephants and bring it back up again, take the stocks off the market and fight indiscriminate poaching then we will be okay,” he said.
He said that Botswana elephant population grows by five percent annually. The minister totally rules out the option of culling the elephants as a means of controlling the growing population in Botswana.
“We can’t cull because the birth rate is about five percent per annum. It means to cull you will have to kill 10,000 elephants or more per annum and that will be an unsustainable number.
He said the reason why elephants are here is because of the past political instability in the surrounding countries of Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
“And they have not gone back. We are tracking some of them, watching their movement, and one elephant took a three-day journey from Botswana to Zimbabwe and back,” he said.
Exporting elephants, Tshekedi says, is a complex and costly task, which has turned aspiring importers off. At some point DRC and Tunisia showed interest, but they never came back.