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Zimbabwe plans to sell its ivory stockpile to China, except… it can't

by Adam Cruise
16 Nov 2016 at 07:08hrs | Views
Zimbabwe Minister wants to sell her country's supposed US$10 billion ivory stockpile to China using a possible international legal loophole. However, experts reply that not only is the minister misinformed that such a loophole exists but her assessment of the size and value of her nation's stockpile is grossly overestimated.

Zimbabwe's environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri informed the Zimbabwean parliament recently that as a CITES (Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species) member, Zimbabwe can legally take out a reservation against the current global ban on ivory as long as it's within 90 days of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17), which ended in Johannesburg on the 5th October.

A reservation, the minister hopes, means Zimbabwe could commercially trade ivory if another CITES member nation, like China, also entered such reservation within the 90-day period.

However, Stella Reynolds, Barrister from the United Kingdom and expert in international law, says the reservation Muchinguri-Kashiri had proposed is simply unobtainable. She explains the southern African nation would only be allowed a reservation if two-thirds of the member countries had voted for a change in Appendices listings at the meeting in Johannesburg. That did not happen.

Elephants in Zimbabwe remain listed under Appendix II, which previously allowed Zimbabwe, together with Namibia and Botswana, to sell of their ivory stockpiles to Japan in 1999 and again, with South Africa added to the trio, to China and Japan in 2008. But since then annotations added to the listing have all but prevented any future stockpile sales.

Furthermore, media reports from within Zimbabwe have stated that the nation sits on a whopping 96,000 tons of ivory valued at US$ 10 billion dollars.

This, says Alejandro Nadal, Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies, El Colegio de Mexico who specializes in wildlife trade, is a gross overestimation. "The minister is not only confusing kilos with tons, but also millions with billions."

According to CITES value estimates at the time of the 2008 sale, Zimbabwe sold around 4 tons at around US$ 500,000, according to a CITES press release at the time. It means based on these estimates the nation has a stockpile value of around US$ 5 million-US$ 10 million, depending on sale prices. (China and Japan colluded in 2008 to keep the prices of stockpiled ivory down so they could sell it on to dealers for a profit). Nevertheless, this is a far cry from the purported US$10 billion.

It was reported that Muchinguri-Kashiri hoped to use the funds to help relieve Zimbabwe's foreign debt however, Muchinguri-Kashiri has been misinformed about how the funds may be spent. Under the agreement reached by CITES in July 2007, the countries that sold the ivory were "obliged to use the funds raised exclusively for elephant conservation and community development programs within or adjacent to the elephant range." She therefore may not use any funds from potential future sales in sectors beyond conservation.

The reservation and size, value and distribution of funds of her nation's stockpile were not the only areas where Muchinguri-Kashiri has erred. She railed against other African countries that wanted fuller protection for elephants: "There are certain countries in Africa, such as Botswana, Kenya and Chad that no longer have wild animals and they are pushing for a ban on the sale of ivory," she told parliament.

However, Botswana is home to the largest single elephant population on the continent, about a third of all Africa's elephants and Kenya, according to the latest figures from the Great Elephant Census, has showed an increase in its elephant populations over the past decade, while Zimbabwe's have showed a decline over the same period.

Zimbabwe has an exemption under CITES allowing it to trade in worked ivory carvings for non-commercial purposes. Providing that a person purchases a valid CITES certificate (which retailers are obliged to provide) and the value of the items in question are less than US$500 and no more than 10kgs, they are permitted to take ivory souvenirs out of the country.

An Investigation into elephant management and ivory trade in Zimbabwe by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2006, revealed that some sellers of ivory have little regard for the CITES permit requirements. Consequently, Chinese dealers have transported large quantities out of Zimbabwe using this exemption.

Both Kenya and Chad have recently destroyed their ivory stockpiles sending a clear message to consumers that it's no longer acceptable to buy ivory, while China and the USA have begun a process of closing down their own domestic markets, which will practically close the door to any ivory stockpile sales from Zimbabwe.