Prevailing circumstances call for the urgent review of the 2005 SADC Elephant Management Strategy with effective international engagement hence the Kasane Elephant Summit, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi has explained. Officiating at the Summit on May 7, Dr Masisi said the strategy was aimed at facilitating coordinated management of trans-boundary populations, but was to date, not implemented.
The outcomes of this year’s elephant summit, themed “Towards a Common Vision for the management of our elephants”, would, therefore, set the tone for the conservation and management of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) elephants, while ensuring that sustainable benefits to rural livelihoods and tourism are derived.
“We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants. It is not by accident that our region is home to the largest population of elephants and our conservation and management practices and successes are world-class, and we should not be shy to publicly proclaim this,” he said.
Dr Masisi said it’s indisputable that the abundance of elephants comes with countless management challenges for the region. as conflicts between them and people were on the rise. He said the escalating Human-Wildlife Conflict is aggravated by the increasing demand for agricultural and residential land. The President said taking into consideration the set-up of African settlements and large spaces needed for the survival of elephants, there should be no debate that local communities need protection to secure their livelihoods and most importantly, to participate in the conservation of the elephants. Additionally, the president noted that the prolonged drought spells in the region are placing even more pressure on the fragile ecosystems.
“This, in turn, requires us to adopt more active measures to manage our wildlife in order to secure the resources that they are dependent on for their continued survival,” he said.
President Masisi said the impact of the conflict on communities could not be underestimated and that in an effort to reduce it, the government of Botswana had over the years implemented numerous mitigation measures including the erection of electric fencing, the use of early maturing crop varieties and deterrents such as bees and chilli pepper. However, he said those measures require significant resources which were not always readily available.
On the illegal elephant trade, President Masisi said there was serious concern about the recent upsurge of the crime in the region.
“The two systems which are intended to monitor trends in elephant poaching and the illegal trade in elephant ivory and other specimen as approved by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) member states, that is, the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), have revealed a steady increase in the illegal killings and seizure of ivory which originate in the region,” said Dr Masisi.
He said the suspension of the right to bring trade proposals to the CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) for consideration had come with costs to the region as ivory stocks had continued to grow at an exponential rate.
“There is no doubt that there is the need for deeper stakeholder conversations on this matter in an objective and realistic manner,” he said.
President Masisi said countries whose elephant populations are on CITES Appendix II had been actively lobbying to utilise elephant by-products, including ivory, to generate revenue which could be used to manage their elephants.
“This has been successful including the last one-off sales for Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. The revenues accrued from these sales were used for elephant conservation and community development and Botswana welcomes the proposal by Zambia to down-list its population to Appendix II and will support the proposal at the upcoming CITES CoP in Sri Lanka,” he said.