Four southern African nations are considering breaking away from the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to set up a parallel organisation to allow trade in ivory

Tourism ministers from Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana met on Friday to look at alternate strategies to CITES, Mangaliso Ndlovu, Zimbabwe’s environment and tourism minister, said

Those countries are home to more than half of the world’s African elephants and have urged the global organisation to end a ban on trade in tusks, as it seeks to deal with over-population of the animals

“We discussed the possible establishment of something like the Kimberley Process,” Ndlovu said. “The idea is for checks and balances and for people to operate within the correct parameters.”

Set up in 2003, the Kimberley Process is an organisation of companies and governments that aims to prevent the trade in conflict diamonds. Member states must certify that the proceeds of diamond shipments will not be used to finance conflicts and commit to transparent practices, according to its website

Still, legal trade in ivory outside the countries could face opposition from other members of CITES, which include China, where much of the world’s ivory from poached elephants is smuggled to

The countries plan to conduct an aerial census of the elephant populations in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, which spans the four nations as well as part of Angola

The survey has secured $1.5 million in funding, which means work can start immediately, Ndlovu said. Some 220,000 elephants are estimated to live in the Conservation Area

Botswana and Zimbabwe, which boast the world’s two biggest elephant populations, have said that there are too many of the animals and that they are becoming a danger to farmers, destroying crops and damaging habitats