Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tuna and Elephants

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha last week, Tanzania lost its bid to relax international ban on ivory trade so it can offload - via a one-off sale of - the stockpile of ivory in its possession.

The opponents of Tanzania's bid argued that allowing sales would encourage poaching while others thought that countries that have done well in conservation (as Tanzania has with the doubling of the number of elephants from 55,000 to 110,000 over the past 20 years), should be allowed to sell government stockpile acquired through seizures, arrests and herd culling. In 2008, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were allowed to sell their ivory.

Does it really hold water that allowing ivory sale should lead to poaching?

Anyway, during the same conference, another critical vote took place. Japan successfully fought against the ban on export bluefin tuna, also an endangered specie. So, Japan, the second largest economy, should be allowed to fish tuna to near extinction, but Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, which has committed and set aside more than 30 percent of its territory for conservation, which has doubled the number of elephants in the country over the past 20 years, should not be allowed to sell seized tusks. Something is wrong here.

1 comment:

Nathan Chiume said...

I was also following this decision with keen interest, particularly after noticing that our neighbor from the north, Kenya, was actively campaigning against Tanzania and Zambia (who were proposing easing the poaching prohibition).

It was indeed hypocritical for conservationist to cheer Tanzania's smack down at the conference and then showing less outrage towards Japan and its tuna. Perhaps it has to do with the money countries like Japan dish out to poor countries to solicit their votes in big conferences like these? Look for the documentary "The Cove" that came out last year for documented evidence of this type of bribery.

It seems to me there was a generalization of the current poaching problem in Africa. Each country seems to have varying levels of elephants or incidences of poaching. The human-elephant conflict in Kenya is probably not as prevalent as is in Tanzania. Twenty one years later, there should be a mechanism to evaluate each country's specific conditions instead of making blanket declarations that treat all countries equally.

I would have also liked to see the establishment of a "Kimberly Process" type of mechanism to allow for sale of legal stockpiles separate from the illegal ones. Countries that have done well in conservation would be given limited exemption to participate in the "Process" and at the same time control the elephant population to maintain it at the optimum levels.

On the flip side, there has been recent cases whereby Tanzania was implicated in seizures of illegally poached ivory. We can't entirely argue or pretend that some illegal poaching is not taking place in Tanzania. We have witnessed seizures of illegal logging of timber as well. Such cases are undermining our good standing and progress report in conservation. The government need to apprehend all those involved in these corrupt and illegal transactions if we want to have full credibility at the international negotiation stage.