Zimbabwe has convened an international conference in the hopes of gaining worldwide backing for its campaign to sell its seized ivory stockpile. Officials warn that if the southern African country is not allowed to sell its 130 tons of ivory, valued at $600 million, it will leave the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.
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The three-day conference began on Monday at Hwange National Park in southeastern Zimbabwe, the country’s largest wildlife park. Officials expect representatives from 16 African countries, as well as Japan and China, two big ivory buyers, to attend. Last week, delegates from the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada were shown carefully locked vaults in Harare filled with piles of elephant tusks in order to get international support for legal ivory sales.
Many conservation groups oppose Zimbabwe’s attempt to sell the ivory, claiming that any sale of ivory encourages poaching of the pachyderms. In a statement released Monday, 50 wildlife and animal rights groups from all over the world said that the conference “sends a dangerous message to poachers and criminal networks that elephants are just commodities and that the ivory trade could start up again, making the threat to the species even greater.”
According to the letter, in 1997 and 2008, Southern African countries were given permission to sell their ivory reserves to Japan and China, resulting in “a rapid acceleration” in poaching across the continent, according to the letter. “Legalizing the ivory trade or even allowing another “one-off” sale,” the groups said, “may have potentially disastrous effects.”
Zimbabwe claims that its elephant population is fast increasing at a rate of 5% to 8% per year, which it claims is unsustainable. Zimbabwe claims it urgently requires revenue from ivory sales to manage its elephant population, which it claims has expanded to “dangerous” proportions. According to park officials, Zimbabwe’s estimated 100,000 elephants are twice the capacity of the country’s national parks. Elephants, which are overcrowded, are damaging trees and plants that are essential for them and other species.
Neighboring With almost 130,000 elephants, Botswana boasts the world’s highest elephant population. Zimbabwe and Botswana together have roughly half of the world’s elephants. Both countries claim they are struggling to keep up with the influx of people. Kenya and other African Elephant Coalition members are opposed, with the majority of the 32 members being East and West African countries with fewer elephants. They say that bringing back international trade in ivory, even for just one auction, will make poaching worse.
To combat poaching, CITES banned the international ivory trade in 1989. In addition to prohibiting ivory sales, CITES placed limitations on the sale of wild elephants captured in Zimbabwe and Botswana in 2019, a decision that delighted some conservationists but angered administrators trying to manage congested parks. International syndicates support poachers who kill elephants and saw off their ivory tusks, resulting in a thriving illegal ivory trade. The ivory is then smuggled out of the country, where it is in high demand for jewelry and trinkets.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, elephant populations in Africa have become more endangered as a result of increased poaching and habitat destruction. Zimbabwe and Botswana think that they would not be able to deal with poachers well without the money from ivory sales. This is especially true since tourism income has dropped since 2020 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.