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The African Elephant Conference and the Hwange Declaration

27 May 2022

The African Elephant Conference was held in the Hwange National Park from the 23rd to the 26th of May 2022 at the Hwange Safari Lodge. The Conference was hosted under the theme a “New and Better Deal for Elephant Conservation, Tourism, Rural Communities in Key African Range States.This watershed Conference was attended by Ministers and senior government officials from Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania. The Head of the European Union Delegation and the Ambassador of Japan were also in attendance. Key non-State actors including local and international NGOs in the wildlife conservation landscape also graced the event. The Conference was convened to garner the support for the African Elephant range States ahead of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties (COP 19) to be held in Panama in November 2022. Among other things, the African range States seek to have the ban on the sale of ivory and the trade in elephants be uplifted and the reform of CITES which they believe is no longer informed by science but politics.

The Conference kicked off with a two-day technical session in which respective countries presented on the state of the African Elephant. These were followed by robust discussions on elephant management practices. The underlying message from the Conference was the importance of a united African voice in international fora such as CITES. The Conference noted that while the global African elephant population is declining, the number of elephants in Southern Africa is increasing showing good conservation practices that must be recognized and provide lessons for other countries to follow.

Community voices and their importance was another key discussion that took center stage. The issue of communities is central to ZELA’s goals of achieving a just and equitable society that benefits from natural resources. The parties at the conference agreed that there is a need to include communities in decision making that affects their livelihoods. Further, it was identified that there is a need to develop and or review existing policies governing Community Based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) that allow communities to receive benefits that outweigh the cost of management.

The Hwange Declaration on the African Elephant was the major highlight of the Conference. This Declaration seeks to address the issues of revenue generation through the sale of wildlife products by developing a viable instrument which will enable African Elephant Range States to sell ivory stockpiles to raise funds for conservation. The Declaration makes a clarion call for CITES not to interfere with domestic trade, state sovereignty, and their rights to sustainable use of wildlife.

The Conference managed to address key issues identified by ZELA in its pre-summit statement. These include the sustainable use of wildlife management, human wildlife conflict, community participation in decision making on wildlife management, and community access and benefit sharing from wildlife resources for better livelihoods. While this is a step in the right direction, there is need for a clear roadmap that crystallizes these issues in a transparent manner that encompasses good governance, transparency and accountability. Corruption is another key issue which needs to be addressed. There is thus a need to come up with an integrated and holistic approach in the management of elephant, which not only promote conservation efforts but also human needs.

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