Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)
“IT startles and bamboozles me when people sit in the comfort of where they come from and lecture to us about the management of a species they do not have. They want to admire from a distance and in the admiration of those species they forget that we too … are a species. They talk as if we are the trees and grass that the elephants feed on.”
The above statement by Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi encapsulates the grim picture that confronts some sub-Saharan countries ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to be held in Sri Lanka in less than two-months’ time.
Speaking at a media briefing hosted at his official residence on March 5 2019, President Masisi warned the West against dictating to Botswana how to manage its wildlife and expressed displeasure at negative reactions to the proposed lifting of the ‘hunting ban’.
Like Zimbabwe, Botswana is battling an ever-growing elephant population — three to four times its carrying capacity.
President Masisi’s view is that there was no logic in abolishing conservation methods to reduce and manage these populations.
CITES Cop18 in Sri Lanka, therefore, takes place against the background of disagreements on what to do with trade in wildlife and wildlife products, especially ivory from ballooning elephant populations.
CITES aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines.
However, the arguments by President Masisi and other like-minded people is that humans are a species too and a solution has to be found to protect them and their livelihoods from the growing danger caused by these beautiful animals.
Zimbabwe joined CITES in 1981 at a time the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) population was around 55 000 and the rhino populations were under serious threat.
The country’s elephants were then classified as endangered species.
Over the years, circumstances changed and Zimbabwe’s elephant population increased significantly.
Zimbabwe either needs to cull or export live animals in large numbers in order to maintain a herd that is commensurate to its ecological carrying capacity.
Elephant populations have continued to increase, particularly in the Hwange, where monitoring data on Zimbabwe’s elephant population is updated systematically.
Survey results show disproportionate elephant populations in the Matetsi area in Hwange. Latest census estimates put the elephant population at 53 949, which is above the ecological carrying capacity of approximately 40 000 elephants.
This has resulted in habitat loss and land degradation.
It also has affected the biodiversity in the national park. This is creating serious ecological, financial and socio-economic challenges to the elephant range areas.
Population management programmes in place aim to promote healthy elephant populations, biodiversity and ecosystem well-being.
Gazetting protected areas for wildlife creates artificial ecosystems that curtail animal movements, resulting in high wildlife concentrations that require further human management.
Zimbabwe is selecting adaptive management options to enable the sustainable conservation of elephants.
Culling is a management option to keep the population within the ecological carrying capacity or preferred densities, which Zimbabwe has not implemented for more than 30 years due to international pressure.
As a responsible global citizen and sensitive to the plight of the species at global level, Zimbabwe has opted to use other elephant management options.
However, the costs at the local level in terms of artificial water supply, law enforcement and habitat degradation does not compare with the global benefits of the elephant species.
Hwange, the country’s biggest national park, is wholly run on borehole water.
Since the area is made up of Kalahari sands, drilling of boreholes is expensive since most of them have to go as deep as 200 metres.
Animal rights groups claim that it is immoral to cull animals, yet it might be equally immoral to condemn the same animals to starvation owing to shrinking habitats.
As a country, Zimbabwe has not been adopting elephant management options that are viewed as controversial by the world. This has been motivated by the fact that Zimbabwe wants to remain part of the global village.
At our own expense as a country, we have burdened ourselves with the huge costs of managing abnormal elephant populations for the benefit of the entire world.
The whole world should, therefore, appreciate efforts being undertaken to ensure that elephant populations remain healthy.
Over the past five years, more than 200 people have been killed in human-wildlife conflict, with human-elephant conflict accounting for 40 percent of the figure.
During the same period, more than 7 000 hectares of crops have been destroyed by wild animals.
Communities are losing their livelihoods.
Worryingly, activists who have been vocal about the need to strictly adhere to certain conservation methods have not been providing any funds for the same.
During the recent funeral of a Bocha teacher who was trampled to death by a stray elephant, Zimparks officials were almost stoned and chased away by angry relatives who accused them of failing to protect them.
Zimbabwe is a party to CITES and is guided by its provisions in undertaking trade with other countries.
Permits and certificates for international trade under CITES are issued by designated national CITES authorities.
International commercial and non-commercial trade in certain specimens of African elephants from Zimbabwe (including live animals) is allowed by the CITES if specified conditions are followed.
These conditions are contained in relevant provisions of the Convention, particularly those of Article IV.
Zimbabwe has religiously followed these specifications. Therefore, concerns raised by animal rights campaigners are misplaced and unfortunate because out of the various options that are available to manage the elephants, Zimbabwe has currently opted for non-lethal methods such as capture and relocation, including live sales and exports.
It is a fact that various zoos in the developed world, including the United States of America, are holding a significant number of African wildlife, including endangered species such as rhinoceros from Zimbabwe.
These include San Diego and Texas zoos in USA, Frankfurt Zoo in Germany and Western Plains Zoo in Australia.
In an effort to save and study the remaining population, Government exported some of its wild rhinos to zoos across the world.
Texas became a leading destination and now has more rhinos than any other US state.
The overseas captive facilities are making big business out of wildlife obtained from all over the globe without ploughing back into conservation in form of resource support and or repatriation of seed stock to either start new populations or boost existing populations in source countries.
In Zimbabwe, all live exports are conducted in compliance with national and international veterinary requirements and quarantine conditions, including IATA Global Standards for the Transportation of Live Animals by Air.
Wildlife capture and translocations are done guided by CITES regulations and using experienced and skilled personnel.
Tinashe Farawo is the public relations manager for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).