THE RATIONALE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF MALAWI’S IVORY STOCKPILES
Given the million dollar headlines batted around and the complex legislation involved, it’s not surprising that some people think it would be foolish to set light to Malawi’s ivory stockpile and that it should, instead, be sold. Kenya is about to destroy their entire 120 tonne stockpile (at last count, Malawi’s was holding 4.1 tonnes), so it’s can’t be complete madness. Find out more on the rationale below …
WHY CAN’T WE SELL MALAWI’S IVORY STOCKPILES?
THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN IVORY IS BANNED
The international trade in ivory was banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Malawi is a signatory. Malawi’s elephant population (together with all African elephant populations except South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe which are listed as Appendix II) is listed on Appendix I of CITES, which prevents all international trade. Therefore it would be illegal to sell Malawi’s ivory on international markets, to do so would break international law and the repercussions on any country doing so would be catastrophic.
THE IVORY TRADE WITHIN MALAWI IS BANNED
In some countries there are still markets for ivory within their borders but these are generally closing down. Even in China, the biggest domestic market in the world, President Xi Jinping has pledged to put an end to domestic commercial trade of ivory. Malawi itself placed a domestic moratorium on any trade in ivory in 2014.
IT IS VERY UNLIKELY THAT THE INTERNATIONAL BAN WILL BE LIFTED
Two one off sales were allowed in 1999 and 2008. Instead of flooding the market with ivory to bring the price down it has been attributed to increasing demand and thus poaching. As a result it is extremely unlikely that CITES will ever agree to any sales again.
AND EVEN IF IT WAS….
Firstly, Malawi’s stockpile is mostly seized ivory which could never be sold anyway
According to CITES seized illegal ivory may never be sold. This is consistent with its status as an unlawful product, and with international norms on the disposal of seized contraband. Therefore, only ivory from natural deaths or problem animal control can ever be considered for sale, and all seized ivory must either be disposed of or securely held forever. And only a tiny fraction of Malawi’s stockpile is from natural deaths/problem animal control.
Secondly, Malawi wouldn’t be eligible to trade the small amount of the ‘legal’ ivory it holds either
There are four African countries with elephant populations listed as Appendix II and not Appendix I – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. There is a moratorium on sales by these countries until at least 2017 and, considering the on-going threat to African elephant populations, little chance of a sale after that. But, let’s for a moment entertain this unlikely possibility, perhaps Malawi could apply to have their elephant populations down-listed and thus apply for sales? Again this isn’t viable. CITES would refuse any application made by Malawi to down-list their elephant population for the foreseeable future given the innumerable local challenges faced (declining populations, poor law enforcement etc.). Tanzania and Zambia applied to down-list their elephant populations in 2010 hoping to become eligible to sell ivory in another application down the line, and they were faring significantly better than Malawi is now. They were outrightly rejected.
Given the unique economics of the trade and the devastating impact it is having on Africa’s most iconic species, there is no easy comparison, but marijuana might be a helpful one for some, just when considering the ethics of holding on to the stockpiles ‘just in case’. Marijuana is a banned substance in Malawi, but it is legal in a few countries and legislation is changing all the time. The majority of the population would surely not think it right to hold on to cannabis seized from criminals in the hope that it could be sold on to these markets at a future date in the unlikely event that international trade might become legal.
WHY DESTROY MALAWI’S IVORY STOCKPILES?
MALAWI’S IVORY IS WORTHLESS TO MALAWI – IT CANNOT BE SOLD
We’ve explained above why the ivory stockpile can’t be sold and therefore has no legal economic value. So hopefully we’re all clear that in no way can Malawi profit because this would be illegal.
REMOVE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR CRIMINALS TO PROFIT AT MALAWI’S EXPENSE
Whilst Malawi can’t sell its ivory, criminals could. They have no respect for the law and are prepared to partake in organised crime and risk custodial sentences to profit from the illicit ivory markets. Time and again we have seen how Government stockpiles in other countries have been infiltrated and ivory has been stolen. There’s nothing to suggest that Malawi would be any different. It’s important to note that illegal wildlife trade is the 4thlargest transnational crime in the world and has even been linked to terrorism. Malawi should be doing all it can to deter such criminality within its borders.
REMOVE THE FINANCIAL BURDEN OF SECURITY
The Department of National Parks & Wildlife are doing their best to provide security with very limited funds and resources. Remove the stockpile and those resources could be diverted elsewhere.
AVOID FURTHER INTERNATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT
Each year there is a stringent audit of ivory stockpiles for all countries who are signatories to CITES. If even a small amount of ivory was found to be ‘missing’, the world would know about it. Imagine the headlines when coupled with the ivory burn postponements (note that Malawi is the only country to have ever announced it will burn its ivory, then suspended it), the ongoing baseless ivory sale debate and embarrassments like inadequate sentencing of significant wildlife traffickers.
Without getting into the economics of the ivory trade, leaking ivory into these black markets further fuels them and in turn encourages more poaching which has resulted in today’s elephant crisis. Thus some would say that Malawi would be culpable, having actively chosen not to put ivory stockpiles out of economic use despite the risks.
INSTEAD, DO SOMETHING POSITIVE FOR MALAWI’S REPUTATION
Malawi has been identified as a soft target for wildlife criminals because of weak law enforcement and legislation and, sadly, stories of corruption. Malawi has, at the very least, been used as a transit route for the biggest ivory seizures of all time. The uninformed public debate on ivory sales has only added weight to this reputation. Destroying ivory stockpiles would help a great deal towards rectifying this, showing that Malawi has strong ethics, values its natural resources and its national security, rejects a trade which could result in the extinction of elephants and is a country that does not shy away from taking strong and decisive action. Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa – let’s show it has heart for its wildlife.
SHOW SOLIDARITY FOR INTERNATIONAL CONSERVATION EFFORTS & ATTRACT SUPPORT
Illegal wildlife trade is currently one of the greatest threats to the survival of wildlife. Data just released this World Wildlife Day (2016) shows that elephants are now being killed at a faster rate than they are being born. At least 20,000 elephants were killed for ivory in 2015.
This isn’t a debate on the value of wildlife, but suffice to say its wellbeing is intrinsically linked with our own. Collaboration within and between countries is critical and, given Malawi’s role in the ivory trafficking chain, has an important role to play. Will Malawi show solidarity for international conservation efforts, shun the ivory trade and send out a bold statement, or will it hold on to its ivory on the (virtually hopeless) hope that it could one day profit from a sale?
Malawi is a signatory to a number of international agreements which include rejecting the ivory trade, but actions speak louder than words. Donors are watching with interest as to what course of action Malawi will choose. A number of environmental donors have expressed dismay at the ongoing wranglings and have specifically chosen to fund other countries over Malawi because of the reputation we have spoken of. Destroying the ivory doesn’t have a direct impact on Malawi’s elephants or the economy’s bottom-line on one hand, but funding for wildlife protection will not only boost the economy directly through the provision of forex and jobs, and wildlife protection itself also indirectly benefits tourism and of course biodiversity which is critical for agriculture, human wellbeing etc.
The 16 countries that have destroyed stockpiles in the last two years alone include Mozambique, Gabon, Chad, Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, USA and China with more slated for this year. Kenya is about to destroy its entire 120 tonne stockpile. Have all these countries lost their way, or are they choosing to send out a strong message that ivory is not for trade and wildlife crime will not be tolerated?
 In the past two years Malawi has signed a number of other international agreements regarding the illegal wildlife trade including the Clinton Global Initiative (Sept 2013), the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade (Feb 2014), the Arusha Declaration on Wildlife Crime (Nov 2014), the Kasane Statement on Illegal Wildlife Trade (June 2015) and the Elephant Protection Initiative (March 2015)
 Ivory burns/crushes since June 2013: Gabon, 27th June 2013, 4.8 tonnes; Philippines, 21st June 2013, 5 tonnes; USA, 14th November 2013, 6 tonnes; China, 6th January 2014, 6.1 tonnes; France, 6th February 2014, 3 tonnes; Chad, 21st February 2014, 1.2 tonnes; Belgium, 9th April 2014, 1.5 tonnes; Hong Kong (China), 15th May 2014, 3 tonnes; Kenya, 3rd March 2015, 15 tonnes; Ethiopia, 20th March 2015, 6.1 tonnes; Dubai, UAE, 29 April 2015, 5 tonnes; Republic of Congo, 29 April 2015, 5 tonnes; France, 22 May 2015, 0.4 tonnes; China, 29 May 2015, 0.75 tonnes; USA, 19 June 2015, 1 tonne, Mozambique, 6 July 2015, 2.6 tonnes