Nairobi — As the debate rages worldwide over if Tanzania should be allowed to sell its stockpile of ivory, internal attention is now focused on the practical question of costs.
Does it make sense for the country to continue spending $75,000 annually to secure its stockpile of 12,131 tusks – weighing 89,848.74 kilogrammes and estimated to be worth $12 million in the Asian markets?
Protecting the stockpile has raised the cost to $1.5 million over the last 21 years since trade in ivory was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
Tanzania and Zambia have asked for a one-off permission to sell their stockpiles in the international markets.
However, if Kenya and other East African Community countries opposed to the application succeed in blocking the request, President Jakaya Kikwete’s government fears it will not only be stuck with the possibility of protecting the ivory, but besides, the country will have to spend an addition $2 million to build two strong rooms to store it.
The 15th Cites conference, to be held in Doha, Qatar, in March, 2010, is expected to seal the ultimate fate of the application, made by Tanzania and Zambia for the authority to sell their stockpiles.
With Kenya and its allies seeking a permanent ban on ivory trade, the decision in Doha will determine the value of Tanzania’s stockpile.
An affirmative decision will allow Dar es Salaam to recoup the $1.5 million it has spent to protect its stockpile so far, a temporary “No” could leave the country with an expensive decision, and a permanent ban could eliminate a legal market.
A decision short of permission to sell the tusks will likely force the country to make the strategic choice of either hoping that one day the legal market will boom, and the country can fetch a handsome profit for keeping the stockpile, or burning the entire stockpile in, like Kenya did in 1989.
Tanzania’s request comes on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Cites treaty, and at a wrong time when there is an upsurge in the poaching of elephants due to a booming market for ivory products in Asia.
Killing elephants for tusks is illegal, but selling ivory from animals that have died of natural causes has been permitted on occasions.
This has renewed the debate among conservationists about if allowing limited sales on occasions creates a market demand for ivory sufficient to spark a new wave of poaching.
This is what countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya are fearing.
South Africa was allowed a one-off sale of its ivory stocks in 2007, alongside Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, during the 14th Cites conference in The Hague, Netherlands.
The consignment of 108 tonnes was sold to Japan and China for a reported $20 million.
Tanzania’s main stockpile is well secured in a strong room at the wildlife division headquarters, and is provided with permanent surveillance.
Other two smaller stocks of 13.2 tonnes are kept at Arusha National Park and the Ngorongoro conservation Area, under the control of the Tanzania National Parks and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority.
A report The EastAfrican had access to shows that the Tanzania government would be required to construct another two strong rooms at $1 million each for storing the tusks if the proposal to sell the 89,848.74 kilogrammes of ivory is turned down by Cites.
The report adds that Tanzania would be able to fetch more than $12 million if Cites allowed for sale the registered tusks and pieces in the Japan and China designated markets, and will not present further proposals to allow trade in elephant tusks from its population for six years after the date of the single sale.
The East African parliament has already passed a law that opens space for the region to debate freely if Tanzania should go ahead with the controversial sale.