African Elephant Summit – Kasane, Botswana by Dr. Ali Kaka
April 2015, Volume 13-2

Editor’s Note: Dr. Ali Kaka attended the 23rd March African Elephant Summit in Kasane, Botswana as official representative of the CIC International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation. The CIC was the only invited hunting organization. The Summit was followed by a closed meeting of Ministers and a couple of Presidents on “International Wildlife Trade”.

The African Elephant Summit – a follow up of the first Elephant Summit in 2013 in Gaborone, Botswana to discuss the emerging “Elephant Crisis”, co-hosted by IUCN – was organized in March by the Government of Botswana with financial support from a few donors. This meeting was attended government delegates up to the level of permanent secretaries (except for Angola whose Minister attended) and by NGO and IGO representatives.

The objectives of the Summit was to review updated data on the status of the elephant in all range states, actions taken and their results since the 2013 meeting along the lines of the 15 “urgent measures” agreed to by several countries (not all) at that meeting.

Each participating country presented an update on the status of their elephants ranging from population figures, poaching figures, ivory seizures, prosecution cases and new initiatives taking place. Against the trend went the reports from two countries. Botswana reported an overall elephant population increase with low poaching, if any, but with human-wildlife conflict on the rise. The country’s position on ivory trade is confusing. One the one hand Botswana vehemently opposes any trade and closed legal elephant trophy hunting; on the other hand, they object to ivory destruction. Namibia reported increasing elephant populations and elephant poaching as practically non-existent. Revenues accrued by both Namibian Government and communities from sustainable use are also improving. The Namibian report in particular back goes against “the grain” of most other reports and in all respects!

Presentations were also made by CITES, MIKE/TRAFFIC and IUCN/AESG. The IUCN presentation focused on the African elephant database data created just over a year ago, which is storing all elephants census data and is updated annually. It was evident that data has been slow in coming in and there are still many inaccuracies in the submissions. Most countries showed overall small increases in comparison to natural population dynamics, with declines in specific locations but not nationally. There are still gaps in some main range states like Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The continent-wide elephant census is not completed yet (said to be well under way”) and no figures were released.

The MIKE/ETIS presentation focused on recorded figures of illegally killed elephants and reported poaching trends. In summation, the popular phrase used for number of illegally killed elephants so far into 2015 was “same status as 2014. CITES and TRAFFIC reported on recorded seizures, which have been on the increase. Theories on the higher seizures cited considerable improvement in customs and intelligence surveillance, but also that there is more ivory being transported from past poaching and that cartels in the Far East are hoarding huge quantities for speculation. There is also talk about ivory stocks in Government hands being leaked out. Botswana was especially vocal about corruption and poor security of stocks in other countries.

Generally, there appears to be a plateauing in the trends in poaching and killings reported during the latter part of 2014 and into 2015, but poaching levels still remain in some countries above acceptable recruitment level, i.e. populations seem to be in decline; recovery will now take a new generation for stabilization. Information on forest elephants (Gabon) is very still very poor and no conclusions can be drawn on their accurate status. Some countries seem to be preferred transit routes for ivory poached elsewhere.

At the insistence of Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa the “Final Statement of the Kasane Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade” included a section on Sustainable Livelihoods and Economic Development, where the signatories acknowledged that the illegal wildlife trade reduces current and future revenue from economic activities such as wildlife‐based tourism and sustainable utilization and that sustainable livelihoods are most likely to be secured with the engagement of relevant community groups and the appropriate retention of benefits from wildlife for local people. The representatives of Governments and Regional Economic Integration Organizations gathered in Kasane on 25 March 2015, committed to “promote the retention of benefits from wildlife resources by local people where they have traditional and/or legal rights over these resources and that they will strengthen policy and legislative frameworks needed to achieve this, reinforce the voice of local people as key stakeholders and implement measures which balance the need to tackle the illegal wildlife trade with the needs of communities, including the sustainable use of wildlife”.

Future follow-up conferences are planned for Congo-Brazzaville (May 2015), Vietnam (2016), Botswana (2017) to update on progress. Parallel to these are also the schedules wildlife crime meetings of ICCF, CITES and UN.

It is really difficult to ascertain if these expensive Conferences have resulted on the comparative changes in the levels of poaching and trade. While most countries strive to now show the crisis is “under control” some say the opposite. What is certain however is that the demand is by no means declining and neither is the price for the commodity. A rather interesting comment by a senior member of the Chinese delegation was a side query to the range state members on whether there is any interest in selling other parts of the dead elephant to the Chinese market, e.g. the trunk and reproductive organs, namely the penis! This was apparently not meant as a joke and was said in the sitting session of all the Technical Heads chaired by the Wildlife Minister of Botswana. No one knew how to respond!

Countries are firmly divided on what to do with the ivory in store and more to be collected in the future. There are those few – including the World Bank – who are asking for a sober debate on regulated ivory trade and then others who blindly want to see no ivory at all in the World!