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Zimbabwe president says ivory sale could fund conservation in next 20 years

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for multilateral treaties such as the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) to strike a balance between conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, saying he was "gravely concerned "with the ban. trade in wildlife products was infiltrating CITES decision-making processes.

President Mnangagwa made the announcement at the inaugural African Wildlife Economy summit June 23 – 25 in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, that his country had $ 600 million in ivory and rhinoceros horn. According to the president, the revenue that could be generated from inventories – obtained with the natural death of animals – if trade in products were legalized, would finance the operating budget of Zimbabwe's national parks for the next 20 years.

"We continue to demand free trade in game products," Mnangagwa told an audience packed with heads of state, policymakers and international organizations. "Whether I like it or not, an elephant will die. The ivory product of this elephant is valuable, so let's find a trade model. "

Wildlife is the largest revenue for tourism in Africa, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization declaring that 80% of annual travel sales to Africa were for wildlife viewing. However, wildlife and biodiversity on the continent are increasingly threatened by loss of habitat, illegal hunting and lack of funding for protection. Wildlife communities also say they have been largely excluded from both the talk and the benefits of a wildlife-based economy.

Patricia Awori, director of the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network, an initiative that focuses on uniting groups of wildlife activists in Africa, opposed the Zimbabwean government's view that "too much time" was being spent talking about ivory rather than communities living next door to wildlife.

"We need to be looking for ways to create livelihood opportunities so that these communities coexist with wildlife and thrive instead of concentrating on stocks," Awori said.

The elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are under CITES Appendix II, which means that they are allowed to legally market ivory, subject to certain conditions. Since 1997, there have been two spot sales of stored ivory authorized by CITES members, which, in the 2008 sale, generated $ 15 million for 102 tonnes. The four governments are now asking to remove CITES restrictions so that their African elephant populations are treated like any other unrestricted Annex II animals.

Ivonne Higuero, the CITES secretary general, told The Independent that discussions of African elephant populations should take place at COP18 in Geneva later this year.

"Seeing the interest and need to develop nature-based solutions for sustainable development in Africa, including to achieve the UN ODS, the cost of conservation and the needs of the communities that have been brought to light, is essential for CITES platform for these discussions and decision-making by the 183 parties to the treaty, "she said.

Max Graham, CEO of Space for Giants, an international conservation organization, said that in the end, what lies behind most of these discussions was funding and the need to explore "valuable economic assets."

"Our research has found that there is a huge unexplored opportunity to expand tourism in Africa's protected areas, which could greatly increase the gains that governments can gain from wildlife tourism," he said. "This money is available sustainably year after year, instead of once, provides many jobs and boosts national economies."

The African Wildlife Summit is co-hosted by the Zimbabwean government, the African Union and the UN Environment Program.

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