The Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties COP17 which has just ended in Johannesburg saw Namibia emerge with all our conservation priorities retained and our voice strengthened. The Namibian Delegation, lead by Honourable Minister Shifeta, included a modest government delegation and which was supported by communities through Intergrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), Namibian Associations of Community Based Support Organisations (NACSO), Namibia Nature Foundation (NNF) and the Game Products Trust Fund (GPTF). The Namibian delegation was very well coordinated and organised in advocating our positions guided by conservation and sustainable development and our common vision. The discussions apart from those on the scientific and procedural merits involved complex diplomacy and supportive advocacy.
CITES is essentially a battle ground between preservation and conservation ideologies. Regrettably well financed animal welfare and animal rights organisations are at the forefront of driving a preservationist agenda. This was highlighted by the case of the Peregrine Falcon, which meets all the criteria to be down listed to the less threatened Annex II Status and yet it was not. In fact, thanks to preservationists, very few species are ever down listed and at this meeting the Cape Mountain Zebra was a welcome change, a rare example of CITES recognising a conservation success. Namibia through its constitution firmly advocates for conservation which entails both protection and utilisation regimes.
The Committees discussions prior to the final plenary session were long arduous and at times quite fraught but in the end some reasonable compromises were attained. The main discussions concerning Namibia were those surrounding elephants, lions, pangolins, hunting trophies, ivory trade and community representation at CITES. The trend coming into this COP17 has been strongly preservationist; a point which was highlighted by the resolution to encourage countries to close their domestic ivory markets arising from the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
Namibia faced serious challenges to our conservation model that has, since independence, seen many successes. A growing elephant population (from below 7,000 to over 20,000) an expanding lion population (800-1000) and range (outside protected areas) and above all the world’s only truly free ranging black rhino population (in conservancies). This is all underpinned by a network of private, communal and State protected areas that cover over 40% of the country. This success has been driven by enlightened government policies that empower our communities to take responsibility for the conservation of wildlife and their habitats and generates benefits from the biodiversity economy through hunting, harvesting and non-consumptive uses such as photographic tourism.
In brief we, together with our regional held firm on our deeply rooted belief that our conservation models are succeeding and in part we have managed to get the global community to recognise this. Namibia proposed for a removal of restrictions, in the form of an annotation, linked to the elephant population, which is listed in Appendix II as well as a decision making mechanism for future trade in ivory. There was also a proposal to uplist the Namibian elephant population, among others, to Appendix I. All those proposal were not adopted at the Committee level. A number of African countries proposed for a complete closure of all domestc ivory markets, globally. The global closure of all domestic ivory markets was not accepted, but rather the closure of markets that can be linked to illegal trade and poaching. Since our elephant population will remain on Appendix II and no annotation was removed or added, nothing has changed. We will continue trading in all specimens we were allowed to trade in before this conference.
The African lion, which was proposed by some other African countries led by Niger, to be move from Appendix II to I, has also been retained on Appendix II. In this case, the status quo remains and we will continue with our business as usual, i.e. sustainable use to ensure the survival of the lion in the wild. The only change will be that no commercial trade in lion bones from Namibia will be allowed.
The motion on Hunting Trophies has also been strengthened and recognises the important contribution to conservation that hunting can make when well regulated, as it is in Namibia.
A motion to secure a stronger voice for our communities who are arguably the most important partners in our conservation efforts has been deferred to an inter-sessional discussion and will be brought up at the next COP.
In the case of the Pangolin, which has been transferred from Appenidx II to I, Namibia does not trade in its specimens for primarily commercial purposes. Therefore, the results of this conference does not affect Namibia negatively. The pangolin is protected in Namibia and we will continue to focus our efforts on its conservation and also enhance our efforts to catch the criminals involved in this trade.
The Namibian delegation stood firm, spoke up for our way of doing things and in the end, under the leadership of Minister of Environment and Tourism Hon. Shifeta, resolutely safeguarded our positions and further promoted our approach to conservation.
But the work starts now, we need to build better and stronger regional and global alliances and we will work at every level, in government and civil society to ensure that when the next meeting of parties is held (COP18 in Sri Lanka) our voice has already been heard. We are already preparing for the up-coming 13th Convention of Biodiversity (CBD) Conference of Parties in Cancun Mexico in December where once again we will advocate the Namibian way of conservation and sustainable development.