Johannesburg – The proposal that CITES should change the status of the African elephant by placing the species on the (endangered) Appendix I list, has no validity. As long as the southern African elephant populations remain numerous, fecund and excessive, this species cannot be classified as “endangered”. Nor is it facing extinction.
This warning by Ron Thomson, CEO of the True Green Alliance (TGA), follows on the announcement by Botswana President Ian Khama during the CITES COP17 in Johannesburg, South Africa, that his country would not support its southern African neighbours’ bids to allow the regulated sales of ivory.
Thomson, a world-renowned conservationist with 57 years’ hand-on experience in game management with a special interest in and knowledge about elephants, says Botswana’s elephant situation is on the brink of disaster. “The disaster will happen when the elephants have eaten themselves out of house and home and cause their own extinction. Regrettably, by the time that happens, they will have long ago caused the local extinctions of most of the flora and fauna of their own ecosystems.”
According to Thomson, there are in excess of 300 000 elephants in Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Botswana is a core part of the world’s largest mega-population of elephants. “The respective subpopulations all grossly exceed the sustainable elephant carrying capacities of their habitats.”
“These large numbers of elephants have been consistently over-utilising their habitat resources for the last four decades and more. Consequently, for a very long time, they have been causing a perpetual and progressive degradation of their sanctuaries’ biological diversities; and they have been converting their habitats into deserts. This state of affairs is unacceptable, unsustainable and a recipe for disaster,” Thomson reiterates.
President Khama’s announcement not to support SADC countries bid to sell ivory on the world market did not come as a surprise to Thomson. “Khama is purported to be, in his personal capacity, on the board of an international animal rights group that is based in the USA – which, like all other animal rights organisations, has as its principle objective the abolition of all animal uses by man. This state of affairs is bad news for Botswana. It is bad news for Africa.”
Thomson accuses President Khama of satisfying his own parochial needs while ignoring the needs of the very people he pledged to serve. During the last week of September, a delegation of northern district councillors in Botswana called for a high level meeting with the government minister for wildlife affairs, Tshekedi Khama (the president’s brother) to lift the ban on big game trophy hunting in Botswana (according to the Ngami Times). This move demonstrates the dissatisfaction among the people of Botswana with the current state of affairs.
“This is indicative of the problem that faces Africa – and the responses that can be expected – when first world nations continue to arrogantly dictate to African states what they can and cannot do with their own wildlife resources”, Thomson says.
Thomson’s frustration with the manner in which CITES treats the wildlife resources of Africa as a “common resource” is growing. “The wild animals of Africa are owned by the sovereign states in which they live; and, as the proposals in CoP17 indicate, many sovereign states are getting restless and distrustful of the intentions of the convention; and resentful of the manner in which it is being administered and directed.”
He said many African countries have come to realise that the only way they can recover (from the convention) their sovereign rights to manage their own wildlife resources as they see fit, is to resign from CITES. However, the costs of such an action would be heavy as powerful western states that want to maintain the status quo will withdraw aid packages to these countries. “Many African states are in a bind. They are damned if they do and they are damned if they don’t.”
Thomson says there is growing dissatisfaction among many of the sovereign state members about the manner in which the animal rightist NGOs at CITES seem to be gaining ever more control over the convention’s purpose and decisions. These members blame the animal rightists for the convention’s continual drift away from its primary purpose – which is to regulate the wildlife trade towards the total prohibition of trade.
“CITES was created primarily to help its sovereign state members to facilitate and to properly execute its international trade practices. Its purpose is not to accommodate animal rightist propaganda – much of which is contrived and not true – nor to block the passage of legitimate wildlife trade (or sustainable wildlife use) programmes.”
Thomson said those southern African countries that want to reopen the trade in ivory and that have demonstrated that they have properly managed their elephant populations are being penalised unjustly, because other African countries’ governance is so bad that they cannot control poaching and allowed their elephant populations to decline.
“We must also ask the question: How will adding unneeded and unwanted extra protection of southern Africa’s elephant populations help those that are in decline in West Africa? That is not how wildlife management works. Each population has to be managed according to its own merits. If CITES insists on not allowing southern Africa’s totally safe elephant populations to be managed according to their respective merits, then CITES is forcing the states of southern Africa to mismanage their elephants.”
Thomson warns that CITES will disintegrate and all its fine potential will be lost to civilisation if its secretariat does not address these problems in a fair and equitable manner and remove the participation of the accredited animal rightists NGOs at CITES.