Namibia is being urged to burn to ashes its piles of ivory – worth millions of dollars – but government insists it wants to sell them in order to generate funds to protect the country’s wildlife against poaching and illicit trade.
President Hage Geingob was unapologetic on the matter when he met Britain’s minister for Africa and the Middle East Tobias Ellwood in London last week, after the minister suggested that Namibia must demonstrate to the world that it is serious against poaching by burning all its ivory stocks.
Namibia advocated for international trade in ivory at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in September in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Namibia, with neighbours South Africa and Zimbabwe urged CITES to relax its stance to allow ivory to be traded legally on a global scale in future, as it was until 1989.
All populations of African elephants were listed on CITES Appendix I in 1989, effectively banning international ivory trade. But the protection was weakened in 1997 and 2000 when elephant populations in four countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe) were down-listed to Appendix II (a less endangered status) to allow two sales of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China in 1999 and 2008.
Meanwhile, Namibia and Zimbabwe have submitted proposals to delete the annotation to the Appendix II listing of their elephant populations to allow an “unqualified” trade in ivory. Along with South Africa, they also propose to adopt, without further discussion, a mechanism to permit commercial exports of ivory from Appendix II range states to any importing “partner” states, The Namibian reported in September.
Namibia’s conservation of elephants has been impressive since independence in 1990 when the country had a paltry 7,000 elephants nationally, but the number now stands at 22,000, according to former environment minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who was with Geingob in London. Nandi-Ndaitwah – who demonstrated intimate understanding of the subject matter during talks held last week Thursday – is now the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of international relations and cooperation.
Ellwood said his government is ready to meet Namibia in her efforts to fend off illegal poaching of the country’s wildlife, but suggested that Namibia must demonstrate sincerity in combating this scourge.
“We have the finance, passion and expertise to deal with criminal gangs that are poaching,” Ellwood told the Namibian delegation here.
Geingob said the fact that the country’s elephant population has soared to the current number is evidence that the country is committed to conserving these giant mammals.
The President said Namibia seeks the right to sell off stockpiles accrued from natural deaths and poaching seizures, to fund projects in communities close to elephants. “We need the money to invest in conservancies where we teach people to co-exist with animals,” he said.
But after Ellwood clung to his position on the issue, Geingob asked: “When you conserve and the number of elephants grow, what do you do with them?”
“Overpopulation is better than extinction,” Ellwood responded.
“Government must manage that, not criminal gangs.”
During his time in London, Geingob met Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew who are both understood to have offered to help Namibia preserve its fauna and flora.