A working document requesting commercial exports of ivory will be submitted at the next Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to be held in September-October in Johannesburg.
Tellingly, the country did not put forward a proposal for a trade in rhino horn amid widespread concerns that a legal trade may stimulate further poaching of rhino.
Yet, it seems elephants are viewed differently.
The proposal offers minimal regulation of trade with no safeguards for the continent’s beleaguered African elephants that, between 2010 and 2012, saw more than 100 000 killed for their tusks.
In contrast to South Africa, the majority of African countries, united as the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), have issued a manifesto asking Southern Africa, and the world, to join them in calling for a total ban on the ivory trade.
Although domestic markets still exist in many countries, international trade in ivory is currently banned, effected by a global moratorium until 2017.
But, unlike all other African nations, elephants in South Africa, along with Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, have been listed under CITES Appendix II, which allowed the 2008 trades and the proposed amendments to which, if successful would allow their products to be legally traded.
It’s these restrictions that the three countries want dropped.
They are requesting to be allowed to sell off their considerable national stockpiles of ivory to an importing ‘partner’ state, like China, just as they were allowed to do in 2008. Then, South Africa, along with the three other Appendix II nations, sold over 100 tons of stockpiled ivory to China and Japan.
This sale did not realise the intended benefits, as Japan and China colluded to purchase the ivory stockpiles at U$157/kg and thereafter selling the ivory into their domestic markets at far higher prices in the region of U$800/kg. It has also been unclear whether the funds realised from the sale were actually used for the conservation of elephants as required.
But a recent report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research attributed a 71% increase in illegal ivory smuggling out of Africa after 2008 directly to the sale.
The SA Department of Environmental affairs has refused to disclose the extent of its stockpile, citing security concerns. There are now fears that if another sale is allowed, South Africa will be eager to resume the policy of culling its elephants, a process that was halted in 1997.
It’s the spectre of a legal trade and its consequent impact on dwindling elephant populations, that sees the rest of Africa strongly opposed to South Africa’s proposal.
“This proposal is made in total and utter denial of the impacts of ivory trade on the populations of elephants across Africa,” says Sally Case, CEO of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, an organisation that has partnered with the AEC. “It is clear that the majority of African range states no longer support this process or any other means to reintroduce a legal trade in ivory, and for the sake of all African elephants, this proposal must be rejected,” she says.