Namibia’s elephant tusk stockpile, which is worth millions of dollars, currently stands at 62.9 tonnes.
Although the government has been reluctant to disclose the size of the stockpile, saying this would compromise security, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) finally revealed that the size of the ivory stockpile now stands at 62.9 tonnes.
The ministry’s spokesperson Romeo Muyunda revealed in an exclusive interview with New Era on Monday that out of the 62.9 tonnes, about 26 tonnes are legal ivory and 36.85 tonnes are illegal ivory.
The legal ones are from animals which died of natural causes, were dehorned or from legal hunting. The illegal stockpile comprises tusks that were confiscated from suspected poachers and smugglers.
“We store all items (tusks and horns) whether they are seized or not,” Muyunda said when asked how much ivory Namibia possesses today and what happens to the confiscated products.
This follows several calls by the international community urging Namibia to burn to ashes its piles of ivory worth millions of dollars, although government insists it wants to sell them in order to generate funds to protect the country’s wildlife against poaching and illicit trade.
This prompted President Hage Geingob to be 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 Namibia must demonstrate to the world it is serious against poaching, by burning all its ivory stocks.
Equally, Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta on Sunday told world leaders in Cancun, Mexico, that proceeds from the legal trade in wildlife and wildlife products in Namibia, including rhino horn and ivory, are re-invested in a host of conservation measures through dedicated environmental funds, including the Game Products Trust Fund and the Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia.
He said this income, for example, funds a translocation programme, which has relocated over 10,000 head of wildlife from state-protected areas to communal conservancies and offsets costs to rural communities for losses resulting from conflict between humans and wildlife.
“Our stance and that of the president is the same, we do not support burning of our ivory and if given a choice between selling and burning we would choose selling. As a country burning will be contrary to our constitution that provides for sustainable utilization of our natural resources for the benefit of all Namibians,” Muyunda remarked.
Selling on the other hand, he said, will generate income for conservation and return revenue for the country to benefit all Namibians as per the constitution. “If sold, funds generated will be invested in intensifying our ongoing anti-poaching activities,” he noted.
Earlier, Shifeta stressed the country is trying to persuade the rest of southern Africa to form a united front and auction these stockpiles worth billions of Namibia dollars instead of burning them.
The largest ever pile of ivory set alight in Kenya was done in April.
The fire was seven times bigger than any previous ivory fires – 105 tonnes of tusks were piled in pyramids, some three metres high.
The idea is that this will help tackle the illegal ivory trade and curb poaching, which is killing some 30,000 elephants a year.
Looking at countries that burn ivory such as Kenya, Muyunda said: “We wouldn’t want to talk about the situation in Kenya as they have their own legislation and policies that guide their conservation. Our conservation has its own basis and framework and we are confident that it is the right approach as demonstrated over the years.”
The practice of burning ivory goes back to July 1989 when Kenya’s then President Daniel arap Moi ignited a pile of 12 tonnes of elephant tusks and helped change global policy on ivory exports.
After that, the trade was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
There is a wider debate about how effective these acts are when it comes to ending the illicit ivory trade and reducing poaching- but there is no proof that destroying supply leads to a decline in demand.
In 2008, through four auctions, conducted under the strict supervision of the CITES Secretariat, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe sold 102 tonnes of ivory to Chinese and Japanese accredited traders for a total amount of US$15.4 million.
The average price paid was US$157 per kilogramme.
In South Africa, the rhino horn trade is estimated at US$2 billion, according to a Reuters report.