African conservation news – CITES under growing pressure to act, live up to its mandate


The growing greed and hunger for Africa’s ‘White Gold’, aka ivory in China has been largely blamed on the rocketing cases of poaching across the continent’s national parks and game reserves over the past two years, but too little action has been taken by CITES or other global bodies, allegedly of fear of ‘upsetting’ the Chinese leadership and risking lucrative trading contracts and investments in particular for African countries. The discovery of what has now been described as one of East Africa’s largest illicit blood ivory hauls in Zanzibar, authorities have now given the figure of 1.041 tusks which have been recovered, has prompted another outcry amongst the conservation fraternity.

Wrote one source overnight to this correspondent: ‘CITES is now under pressure like never before. Last week the executive committee, arguably following pressure from the most notorious importer nations of ivory, tried to exclude NGO’s and civil society and only when realizing the folly of their dictate they reversed their vote quickly to avoid a lot more negative press. But it was also apparent in their meetings, in particular on ivory trading, the relationship between their past one – off grants to sell off ivory stocks and increase in poaching on a phenomenal scale across Africa was speaking a very clear language. You allow countries to sell what they call ‘legal stocks’ and poaching immediately rockets. Then there is the issue of rhino horn smuggling and the virtual war declared on the species, especially in South Africa by money greedy poachers using automatic weapons, at times even helicopters and sophisticated communications equipment, besieging national parks and private game reserves where only last week a gruesome attack on several rhinos left at least three dead and the nation in uproar over their government’s seeming inaction. In 2008 CITES gave China the status of ‘ivory trading partner’ alongside Japan, but my fellow activists want that decision reviewed immediately with the aim of suspending it until China provides stiff laws internally over possession and processing ivory. They must show that they support the survival of Africa’s wildlife for real and we do not care how powerful China now is, what is wrong is wrong and we must be able to say so’.

Other sources from within Tanzania in fact demanded that the country drop any further attempt to seek an exception on the ivory trade rule during the next global CITES meeting in 2013 as well as renounce any other measures like ‘auctioning’ processed and semi-processed ivory seized at airports and sea ports, as was attempted last year by the customs department in a clear violation of the spirit of the respective global conventions. Zambia too is coming under pressure to forego any future attempts to sell her ivory stocks as that country had applied for an exemption alongside Tanzania, but hosting the CITES Secretariat in Lusaka actually makes discussions between the Secretariat not any easier, as the Secretariat works under the direction of the tri-annual global congress and in between with the Executive Committee, which has shown no haste nor keen interest to once and for all make ALL sales in ivory stocks illegal, and gently pushing governments in the direction of Kenya’s action, where recently over 5 tons of blood ivory were burned.

Whichever way those discussions go and wherever China’s status is heading, one thing has become clear that the sheer volume of tusks, 1.041 in total, confiscated earlier in the week in Zanzibar, has shocked and rocked the conservation fraternity which undoubtedly will become much more vocal and outspoken in their demands to protect Africa’s wildlife and in the process safeguard the tourism industries in the safari park countries of Eastern and Southern Africa, which depend on wildlife actually being alive to be photographed by tourists and not carcasses upon which they stumble during their game drives.

Watch this space.