Picture: 123RF/CHRIS FOURIE
Picture: 123RF/CHRIS FOURIE

Namibia has threatened to lead Southern African nations, home to the bulk of the world’s rhinos and elephants, out of a global convention that governs trade in wild plants and animals.

The country was angered after losing a bid to ease controls over products from its white rhino population, which numbers more than 1,000 of the endangered beasts. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) decided in Geneva to retain restrictions on the trade.

“There are countries that hold views that are not based on science. Instead of applying science they are just politicising the whole matter,” Pohamba Shifeta, Namibia’s environment minister, told reporters in Geneva.

“As the Southern African Development Community [Sadc] region, the region with the largest population of the rhinoceros species, we will reconsider our staying in CITES if it is the case. We are going to have a meeting and we are going to make a statement.”

Sadc has 16 member states including Namibia, SA, Botswana, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Southern African countries, generally regarded as having run the best conservation programmes in Africa, have been angered by decisions taken at CITES in 2019. The group refused to ease controls on elephant ivory to allow several nations to sell their stockpiles and banned the export of wild elephants outside of the range where they occur naturally after Zimbabwe sold the animals to zoos in China and other countries.

Namibia had wanted its white rhinoceros population to be downgraded to Appendix II which states that unlike on Appendix I, the animals are not threatened with extinction, but trade needs to be limited to keep their populations sustainable. The use of ground-up rhino horn as a supposed cure for cancer in East Asia has led to a surge in poaching in SA and other countries and a global ban on trade. An illegal trade flourishes.

Kitso Mokaila, Botswana’s environment minister, said at the same press conference that the arguments at CITES were driven by emotions and the impact wildlife had on rural Africans was not taken into account.

“If CITES does not really help us to conserve our wild animals, but frustrating those that are doing good, I think there is no need for us to stay in CITES,” Shifeta said.

Bloomberg