KASANE, BOTSWANA — Botswana’s Minister for Environment, Natural Resources, Conservation and Tourism, Kitso Mokaila has urged Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) member states to unite and speak with one voice in anticipation of a menacing backlash at the upcoming yet postponed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) slated for Sri Lanka later this year.
Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is situated in a region of Southern Africa where the international borders of five countries converge.
Speaking at the just ended Elephant Summit 2019 in Kasane, Botswana that had brought Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Zambia together for a common cause of elephant management and conservation ahead of a ministerial meeting, Mokaila told dignitaries that recently the media was awash with negative reports perpetuated by western media and therefore the upcoming CITES convention could be an anticipated battlefield for the same to regroup and reignite their onslaught.
The theme of the summit, “Towards a common vision for managing Southern Africa’s elephants” has been viewed as appropriate as the neighboruing countries agreed that their elephants know no boundaries and therefore exist as one mega-population.
“As expected there was a backlash from the international community as fueled by the media especially media houses from the west. One can expect the same hostility at the upcoming CITES Conference of Parties. It is my fervent desire that we continue to speak with one voice when it comes to our regional elephants. One major challenge which is haunting us is that of human-elephant conflict. While the elephant range was increasing over the years, the demand for agricultural land was equally increasing. This has resulted in growing competition between people and wildlife for living space,” said Mokaila.
The convening of the Kasane Elephant Summit was prompted by, among other things, the need for concerted regional efforts in the management of the African elephants. The KAZA region has about 60% of the global population.
“This gathering, therefore, provides us with an invaluable opportunity to agree on actions and effective transboundary initiatives that will address the challenges we face in the management of this iconic species,” said Mokaila.
Mokaila who was speaking in the company of his counterparts in the same ministerial portfolios acknowledged that the Summit is expected to generate a better understanding of elephant management and associated challenges, as well as a series of measures to be undertaken in order to address the challenges more efficiently and effectively.
Botswana’s elephant population has increased with time from an estimated 55, 000 in 1991 to the current nationwide estimate of about 160 000, thus implying a 4-fold increase in the elephant population.
“This increase has come up with associated challenges. In the process, people lose lives, crops and agricultural infrastructure and other property which are destroyed by elephants. This tends to reverse the strides our governments have made in improving the livelihoods of our communities. This cannot be tolerated and it will be a failure on our part if we don’t address this state of affairs.
Another challenge associated with the elephant population is that of illegal off-take which has been the focus for many gatherings in the past years. Poaching is increasing; and it is our considered view that we should work with our local communities, to close all the loopholes for Poaching lest we lose the very resource that has made us a shining example of successful conservation,” he concluded.
Botswana’s request to speak with one voice was welcomed by the head of states of the neighboring countries. Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he was happy to be back in Botswana to discuss elephant conservation.
He stressed by acknowledging that Africa has long been able to manage its wildlife sustainably.
“It’s a warm welcome to Botswana particularly to the serene resort of Kasane. Elephants are arguably a symbol of success in conservation, so to meet and reflect on this species is an assurance that they are used to benefit our communities,” said Mnangagwa.
For his part, Namibian President Hage Geingob said his country will be a full participating member of KAZA, adding that Namibia affirms its support to KAZA.
“We manage our resources properly and we exercise strict controls over ivory sales and stocks. Namibia endorses KAZA free visa. The Namibian elephant population is a testimony of how we have managed them.”
Still at the conference, Zambian President, Edgar Lungu said their visit to Botswana was to protect the flora and fauna of the region.
“We meet at time when Southern African is upon a momentous Kazungula bridge project which will improve further and better movement for tourists and business in our region.”