Zimbabwe’s Ivory stockpile conundrum

By Nqobile Bhebhe

Posted on Monday, 1 August 2016 10:49

Ministers told the country’s parliament last week that Zimbabwe was sitting on 96,000 tonnes of ivory worth $9 billion it cannot sell, however, a cursory glance at the figures shows the government may not have been telling the truth.

We are very foolish. They do not have elephants in London, America and China

Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri made the disclosure after being asked if the country would pull out of CITES in protest.

“Zimbabwe has 96,000 tonnes of ivory, and if sold, we can get $9 billion,” he said. “We are still trying to negotiate with other countries so we can be able to sell our ivory and the European Union seems to be changing its mind on lifting the ban on the sale of ivory.”

Muchinguri said Zimbabwe will not burn its ivory stocks as Kenya did in May.

However, the 96,000 tonnes figure may not be accurate. And Muchinguri’s claims that a tonne of ivory sells for $100,000 is well above prices on the black market. A tonne of ivory costs up to $2,100 on the black market, a far cry from the Zimbabwean minister’s estimates.

In May, government officials said current stockpile of ivory weighs about 70 tonnes and is worth an estimated $35m.

Legislators contend that if sold, the money generated will plug a huge financial hole, yet CITES wants a complete ban in ivory trade.

Colonial powers

Pushing the drive for a pull-out is opposition legislator, Gift Chimanikire, a close ally of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Chimanikire said the country was acting “foolishly” in siding with CITES on the ban.

“We agree not to export our own rhino horns and elephant tusks. We are very foolish. They do not have elephants in London, America and China. They are here but we are paralysed and we cannot even sell what we have” he charged.

“We have to burn what we have simply because we want to satisfy those colonial powers. Are we forgetting that they are imperialists? What is wrong with us? That is why time and again I said we must be mad.

“We should withdraw from CITES and start selling our ivory. How can we be labelled a poor country when we have in excess of 8,000 elephants in the Hwange Game Reserve?”

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said the ivory trade ban had stifled the country’s economic recovery programmes.

“If sold at $100,000 per tonne, it clearly means we have $9,6 billion worth of ivory in the country, which is sufficient to write off our debt. This is the paradox of Africa, where we are rich, but poor because our policies are prescribed to us by countries that do not have the animals,” he said.

“They ban us from selling our stock and yet these countries, which make decisions at CITES, do not have elephants. We are not poor, but it is policies from outside that limit us.”

Zimbabwe says its elephant population, estimated at 96,000, is twice what can be supported by available food and land.

Conservation groups say that limited sales will allow the government to raise money for conservation and to fight illegal poaching.

The country, which is going through an economic crisis, said in February that it raised $1 million from selling elephants to China as part of conservation efforts.

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