Kenya’s opposition to ivory trade got a major boost after an influential watchdog backed the ban offering a rare support to tourism industry.
The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secretariat on Thursday recommended to the delegates meeting in Qatar that Tanzania’s proposal to trade in elephant ivory be rejected and that of Zambia allowed on its adequate control of poaching.
It said Zambia would be allowed to sell its stockpile as it has better enforcement mechanisms to rein in poachers.
While rejecting Tanzania’s proposal, the lobby raised concerns over enforcement and compliance in the country.
“Anti-poaching efforts in some parts of Tanzania seem inadequate, the ivory stocks cannot be fully verified, and controls of illegal trade in raw ivory originating from or transiting through Tanzania appear to be unsatisfactory,” CITES said.
Tanzania is pushing for a one-off sale of 90 tonnes of ivory to trading partners such as China while Zambia is keen to offload 22 tonnes of its stock pile.
Both countries had put in an application that would allow them to sell these stock-piles in a bid to raise funds that would go into conservation.
CITES is an international agreement between the governments of 175 member countries and is set to decide, among other proposals, whether to allow Tanzania and Zambia to sell part of their stockpiled ivory before next Thursday.
The two countries have asked for an exemption to the 1989 ban on ivory trade, which was put in place to protect the African elephant and rhino.
The recommendation is expected to help the delegates reach a final decision on ivory trading by next week.
Kenya relies heavily on tourism to earn foreign exchange and many visitors come to the country to visit its numerous game parks, and see its animals, among them a 35,000-strong heavily protected elephant population.
The sector is seen as one of the drivers of the economy, bringing in millions of dollars.
Last year, tourism earned Sh62.5 billion, up from Sh52.71 billion in 2008 from the 950,000 visitors who came into the country.
These earnings are, however, still lower than the 2007 performance, the country’s best year, when sector earned Sh65 billion.
Wildlife tourism is a major component of the country’s product appeal.
Fred Kaigua, the chief executive of Kenya Association of Tour Operators, argues that the country could lose key specials as well as customer appeal if the poaching was to be on the increase.
“Tourists do not want to associate with animal cruelty, thus the country could lose its appeal,” he said. Poaching does not stop with one species but could affect many others for other uses like game meat, the official said.
In the past few years, the country has seen an increase in poaching activities with up to 230 elephants being felled in 2009, 145 in 2008 and 47 in 2007.
Kenya shares a lot of wildlife with its neighbour Tanzania mainly through Masai Mara, Tsavo and Amboseli, the major tourist attractions.
Kenya has been campaigning for a total ban on ivory trade as it’s herd of elephants continues to be exposed to poachers.
Opening up trading in ivory would worsen the situation, the country has argued.
The African Elephant Coalition opposed the proposals for the down listings and one-off sales, saying the nine-year resting period provides all African range states opportunity to secure elephants in their habitat.
The legal sale of 100 tonnes of ivory by southern African countries last year, following an agreement in the CITES conference of 2007, is said to have increased the appetite in the market despite these countries stating that the sale was necessary to satisfy the market.
Those opposed to the sale, including Kenya Wildlife Service, the custodian of the country’s wild, has said this was a false argument and that once the stock piles were sold the markets appetite was stimulated, leading to more poaching.
Kenya has been struggling to increase its elephant population following a major drop due to poaching.
As of 1989, the population had dropped to 16,000 from over 100,000 two decades before.
Today, the number stands at 35,000. But this is under constant attack from poachers and the annual droughts.
KWS statistics show that in 2007 the country lost 47 elephants, this increased to 145 last year while 216 have been reported dead this year.
CITES is urging governments to incorporate Internet and new technologies to protect fauna and flora.
CITES chief enforcement officer, John Sellar, said many countries face difficulties controlling wildlife trade under CITES if they lack adequate access to the Internet and other new communication tools.
Kenya boasts one of the most modern monitoring units. According to Kenya Wildlife head of species conservation and management Patrick Omondi, the centre provides real time data on the endangered species.