Tusks, rhino horns' stockpile worth billions

NAMIBIA'S elephant tusks and rhino horns' stockpile is worth billions of dollars, and the country is trying to persuade the rest of southern Africa to form a united front and auction these stockpiles instead of burning them, environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta said yesterday.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting on rhino horn and ivory stockpiles that was scheduled to be hosted by Namibia this month was postponed, he said.

The meeting will go ahead once the SADC secretariat gives the green light, Shifeta noted.

It is better to do it as a group (SADC) rather than single countries. It is good to do it with two or three countries, the minister added.

He refused to disclose the size of the stockpile, saying this would compromise security.

But I can tell you that it's worth billions of Namibia dollars, he stressed.

The stockpile is divided between horns and tusks marked illegal and legal.

The legal ones are those from animals which died of natural causes, were dehorned or those from legal hunting. The illegal stockpile comprises horns and tusks which were confiscated from suspected poachers and smugglers.

Shifeta said since most of the items on the stockpile come from Namibia, the country has every right to auction the stockpile and benefit from its natural resources.

In 2008, over US$15 million for African elephant conservation and local communities was raised through the sale of 102 tonnes of ivory stockpiles, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of fauna and flora (Cites).

Through four auctions, conducted under the strict supervision of the Cites secretariat, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe sold the 102 tonnes of ivory to Chinese and Japanese accredited traders for a total amount of US$15,4 million.
The average price paid was US$157 per kilogramme.

The ivory sold was all from legal, government-owned stocks; most of it from elephants which died of natural causes over 20 years, or were culled before 1994 as part of a population control programme.

In South Africa, the rhino horn trade is estimated at US$2 billion, according to a Reuters report.

A record 1 305 animals were killed illegally in Africa last year. Buying and selling rhino horn internationally was banned in 1977.
According to Reuters, opponents of that ban say as rhino horns grow back if cut from a living animal, a properly-monitored legal trade could help save the rhinos, rather than condemn them to extinction.

The rhino horn has a street value of about US$65 000 per kg in Asia, according to off-the-record estimates by conservationists, so the US$2 billion trade in South Africa could account for 30 tonnes, according to Reuters.