SADC Asserts Member States’ Right To Manage Their Wildlife

SADC countries made a very clear and unchallengeable statement after the May 2022 Hwange Elephant Conference in Zimbabwe that “[m]ember states have the sovereign right to manage their wildlife resources and the corresponding responsibility to sustainably use and conserve these resources.”

That unambiguous statement of truth has angered 46 animal rights groups, led by the UK-headquartered Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). 

Like children throwing a tantrum because they have been denied something they covet, the EIA group has indicated that they believe that they possess a right to decide how African wildlife is dealt with. 

Their reasoning is based on the fact that there is worldwide admiration of Africa’s wildlife, which merits the whole world having a say in its treatment.

The fact that this would be to the detriment of the unassailable right of sovereign governments to manage their wildlife is disregarded. 

Therefore, can there be any doubt remaining that many Western animal rights groups are led by racists with a colonial mentality that yearns to control Africa again?

Does such control make sense to anyone in the 21st century? Would the United States allow independent NGOs from Europe to dictate how their wild horses are managed? 

What business is it of a group in Brussels or Berlin to determine how the state of Connecticut deals with the white deer overrunning its residential areas?

 Would the British allow a private group in Denver, Cape Town, or Harare to dictate the hunting rules for foxes on private property?

 How do you think the World Conservation Society would look upon comments from an NGO in Delhi on the quality of the habitats it provides for parrots at the Bronx Zoo?

Any private group that thinks it has the right to tell a sovereign government what to do or how to act with regard to its natural resources, including wildlife, does not fully understand how the world order based on independent nation-states operates or why the UN international wildlife trade regulating agency CITES has and must continue to reassert the right of sovereign governments to control the wildlife within its borders.

It is against this background that Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry (MECTHI) has condemned and dismissed the patronizing and insulting EIA’s neo-colonial attitude towards wildlife management in Africa. 

The Ministry once again noted that the EIA statement exposed the ugly underbelly of colonial attitudes towards wildlife management in Africa maintained by the big international non-government organizations — the BINGOs.

MECHTHI went on to note: “Through the Hwange Declaration, we declare that as range states, we are [ready to] restore international trade [in elephant products to] unlock the value of the elephants for sustainable conservation. As acknowledged by . . . CITES, there are a variety of elephant products that are on-demand and are tradable. [W]e must [also] unlock the value of the ivory stockpile . . to assist with financial resources . . . to manage Human-Elephant Conflicts.”

The U.S.-based Ivory Education Institute’s Managing Director, Godfrey Harris, has written: “The fact that elephant ivory may be illegally traded internationally grants no distant nation nor international organization the right to say how elephants may be controlled, how many is too many for a given habitat, and what should be done with their valuable parts after they die.”

Harris said that “these are sovereign decisions” of each country in the elephant range states.

“The tendency of an animal rights group to assume ownership of elephants just because they have included the species in their name or declared their unconditional interest in them has no status in reality,” he said. 

“Do bird watchers get to dictate what happens to birds they stalk? Do football fans of a soccer team — no matter how much team gear they own, how often they watch the team on television, or how much they bet on the team — have a right to determine who plays for that team or how much he should be paid? Of course not. So why should a group headquartered in London think they have a right to determine how elephants are treated in Namibia or Zimbabwe?”

MECHTHI went on to say: “We would like to make it very clear that… maintaining the status quo on the listing of Elephant species on Appendix II is [our] minimum and non-negotiable demand. Zimbabwe is on record that it needs to sell its stockpiled ivory in order to pay for elephant management and conservation costs. 

Similar calls have been made by other southern African countries such as Botswana and Namibia whose collective value of stockpiled ivory including that of Zimbabwe and South Africa is said to be “well over US$2 billion dollars” according to Dr. Morris Mtsambiwa, the Former Executive Director of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

Wildlife management experts worldwide, including Kenya-based Dr. Dan Stiles, continue to warn the world that as long as people don’t benefit from wildlife, especially communities that co-exist with the wild animals, they will not appreciate their value and will see no need to conserve them.

In Dr. Stiles’ words, “Make the species of value, and people will make an effort to keep it.” 

The BINGOs use the African wildlife crisis to raise money. Solve the crisis and the BINGOs lose their source of income. 

It is long overdue to expose and end these BINGO-sponsored wildlife trade bans that are hurting wildlife conservation in the elephant range states.

MECHTHI added this to its statement about the EIA’s reaction to the Hwange Elephant Summit: “As party signatories to the CITES vision and mission, we want justice for elephants and the communities that care for them. Most of the non-state actors do not live with the elephants and have little knowledge of the habitats and the challenges faced by elephants and the communities that interact with themAs a government, we have a constitutional obligation and duty to provide social services and livelihood opportunities for our people, based on our natural resources. [The BINGOs have no such obligation.] Our view is that we must continue to invest resources from elephants to protect them.”

MECHTHI went on to make the very telling point that the increase in elephant populations in many of the SADC countries “. . . is not due to trade restrictions but good and well-implemented management plans and conservation methods for which we are proud to have championed.”

International observers have bluntly said that the EIA and its trailing group are “hell-bent on peddling lies about wildlife conservation in Africa so that the public will press their online donate buttons and raise money that fills their pockets instead of being used to support wildlife and habitat conservation in Africa.”

“The EIA statement notes that such African elephant range states as Kenya, Senegal, and Rwanda stayed away from the meeting,” said Harris. 

“The question then has to be asked: What were these countries afraid of? The purpose of the Hwange Conference was to ‘forge a new and better deal for elephant conservation, tourism, and rural communities…’ Does that mean that Kenya, Senegal, and Rwanda are opposed to stronger elephant conservation, improved tourism, and stronger rural communities? Or did they stay away at the behest of the Environment Investigation Agency — or some other animal rights group — because it was not in control of the Summit’s agenda and outcome?”

Has CITES been irrevocably captured by animal rights groups on the verge of its 19th gathering of the Parties in Panama? 

If the UN agency fails to show some backbone on the issue of the sovereign rights of sovereign nations towards the wildlife that is found within their borders it might see several SADC countries pulling out, in order to begin trading internationally in their stockpiled ivory. 

Zimbabwe and Botswana have already announced that if they don’t get the CITES member countries’ majority vote for trading in ivory they would exit CITES.

“It may be past time [long-overdue] for this to happen,” according to Harris.

About the writer: Emmanuel Koro is a Johannesburg-based independent international award-winning environmental journalist who writes on environment and development issues in Africa and is the author of the Book: Western Celebration of African Poverty – Animal Rights Versus Human Rights.

*The views expressed by the author of this article are not necessarily those of The Bulrushes