Zimbabwe's proposal for reopening ivory trade is one of the hot issues at this year's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting this month. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries of Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana have united in their proposal to restart the trade in ivory. Although South Africa is not asking to be included in the list, it has forwarded its support to the three SADC countries.

I Recent statistics have shown that elephant populations have been rising steadily in southern Africa to about 150,000 despite culling. But SADC countries assert that they have successfully curbed poaching. Reportedly, elephant herds are having increasing conflicts with farmers and villagers who, feel the experts, need a financial incentive to conserve elephants.

The Zimbabwean department of national parks and wildlife management (DNWPLM) holds over 28,000 tonne (t) of ivory obtained from poached or culled elephants. Between 1992 and 1995, sales averaged 3.6 t a year. Over 1996, 10 t were sold. A CITES team reported that large amounts of raw, semi-worked and worked ivory from this stockpile are being sent all around the world. The team alleged that ivory dealers are bypassing the law by labeling the shipments with 'personal use' permits. Willas Makombe, director of a DNWPLM delegation, reacted angrily to the CITES report. Makombe said that any "shortcomings" that occurred in 1996 were due to lack of funds and staff vacancies which are being filled up now.