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In September 2012, SCI Foundation sponsored the eleventh meeting of the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF) in Kasane, Botswana. More than 50 participants consisting of representatives from southern African governments, Professional Hunting Associations, and leading wildlife experts discussed the most critical wildlife conservation issues in present day Africa.
Rhino and elephant poaching, illicit trade in ivory and rhino horn, human-wildlife conflict and new policy changes regarding land use were just some of the agenda items. The AWCF continues to be the SCI Foundation’s greatest conservation initiative each year in Africa, and this world renowned forum is recognized as being invaluable to improve communication between wildlife stakeholders and shape wildlife management on the African continent. Attendees also discussed at length the possibility of creating an international process to simplify legal, sustainable ivory trade. Removing the political obstacles countering trade will allow Africa’s developing nations with healthy elephant populations to utilize their natural resources for economic gain. Ivory derived from elephants that die of natural causes could potentially be sold on a legal market, just as diamonds, coal, and oil are traded every day. Currently there are strict conditions set for ivory sales that are being followed, but the sales are only occasionally being allowed.
But what about all of this poaching that is constantly in the media? Yes, poaching has increased in some areas and is once again a great concern, but in some regions, elephants are so abundant that they are damaging the environment. Rates of poaching should not determine when and how all the elephant range states can sell their ivory stockpiles because revenue generated from legal ivory sales would only support additional elephant conservation and anti-poaching initiatives. Often meeting late in the evenings, the governments participating in the AWCF discussed the best approach for managing legal trade in ivory. They aspire to create a mechanism to sell ivory that is independent of the political maneuvering and lobbying strategies occurring at international conferences whenever ivory is on the agenda.
This AWCF meeting was held within six months of the next big CITES meeting, the Sixteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16), so CITES issues involving the African continent were reviewed. Trade in elephants and ivory always seem to be on the agenda. The AWCF participants once again requested that SCI Foundation assist by facilitating communication and advocating sustainable-use positions to the United States and European Union, not just on elephants, but on all issues affecting Africa. Rhinos will also cause a stir at CITES. Zero export quotas for white rhinoceros hunting trophies from South Africa are just one of the proposed issues on the table at CoP16. SCI Foundation and our partners will strive to educate CITES Parties on how important the hunting industry is to the success of rhinoceros populations.
Approximately 25% of the total white rhinoceros population in South Africa is privately owned and many of these owners are affiliated with trophy hunting. Rhinoceros that are privately owned have great value because of their appeal to hunters. Imposing a zero export quota will bring an end to rhino hunting in South Africa by visiting hunters, and this value to private landowners will be lost. If the incentives to conserve and protect these privately owned rhinoceros fade, so will the number of stewards willing to look after the rhinos, negatively affecting up to 25% of the rhinos in South Africa. Decision-makers must understand the link between maintaining wildlife on the landscape and the cost associated with their maintenance. The cost incurred by funding anti-poaching patrols for concessions is significant. Even the most well-intentioned land stewards will be unable to adequately protect wildlife without legal harvest driving the business operation. The economic question of protecting species like rhino and elephant from poachers in the absence of hunting has yet to be addressed in a meaningful way
To view video footagefrom the 2012 African Wildlife Consultative Forum, please visit http://youtu.be/9Ol3Gqw4foE