Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe)

Tinashe Farawo

LAST week Zimbabwe hosted a delegation from Mozambique comprising that country’s institutions responsible for wildlife management and law enforcement.

The main objective of the visit was to share and learn various aspects pertaining strengthening of capacity to combat wildlife crimes and illegal trading within the region.

The visit was also meant to ensure that the two nations strengthen law enforcement, whose relationship dates back to the days of the liberation struggles in the 1970s.

Some of the issues discussed involved comparing notes related to intelligence sharing and operations, investigations, evidence conservation, storage of ivory, and docket preparation which leads to successful prosecution and conviction of wildlife crimes.

During their visit, the Mozambican delegation visited Lake Chivero, one of the country’s most successful Rhino projects, which is protected by an all-female anti-poaching unit.

Zimbabwe is part to the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) within the region and this consists of Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, which borders Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe; Greater Mapungubwe, which borders Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe among other TFCAs that are bearing fruit in the fight against poaching.

Head of delegation for the Mozambican team, Mr Marcelino Foloma, said the visit was an eye opener. He lauded Zimbabwe as a world leader in sustainable conservation.

Zimbabwe is also expected to pay a reciprocal visit to Mozambique. Since the coming in of Zimparks new director general, Mr Fulton Mangwanya in August 2017, the country has increased cross border patrols with its neighbours and more arrests and convictions have been recorded.

Between January and March this year, Victoria Falls Magistrate Courts received 25 cases. Twenty-four of the cases had 100 percent convictions.

Binga had 39 cases and 38 were completed with 37 convictions and one acquittal while Hwange received 24 cases since January with only four of those still pending.

These successes in arrests and convictions by Zimbabwe show that there is a strong collaboration between Zimparks and other state agencies in the fight against poaching and other wildlife crimes, which is partly why Mozambique came to compare notes.

The visionary leadership of Mr Mangwanya has seen the expansion of its education and awareness campaigns in all state agencies and communities. This has resulted in expeditious conclusions of wildlife crimes brought before the courts and communities because they are the first line of defence as they now appreciate the dangers posed by poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.

There has been a stable population growth and localised over-abundance of elephants in North-West Matabeleland from 49 300 in 2001 to 53 900 in 2014 and in the South-Eastern Low-veld from 5 000 in 2001 to more than 11 000 in 2014.

South-Eastern Low-veld recorded a steady increase of plains game from 1 700 to 6 600.

The decrease of plains game in some parts of the country has been attributed to subsistence hunting and fragmentation of habitat.

The population of major carnivores is steadily increasing across all major wildlife areas. This is evidenced by more sightings of these.

The country’s wildlife population has been increasing at an average of five percent over the last 10 years just as the human population also slightly rose, yet land is a finite resource. This has resulted in an upsurge of human wildlife conflict as wild animals encroach into human settlements and vice-versa.

Zimbabwe is at an advanced stage of preparations for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The country has established the different committees that deal with the different questions and elements that will emerge at CITES. The committees constituted include the plant and animals’ committees, the trade committee, the communications committee and the fundraising committees. These committees are essential in producing documents, sourcing for funds and marketing and engagement with other countries. Zimbabwe has also been sending its technical teams to engage and meet with other parties to cement the country’s position. Delegates have also been attending meetings such as the Convention on Migratory Species meeting to participate in view and strengthen Zimbabwe’s position regarding the management of certain species.

Zimbabwe subscribes to the principle of sustainable utilisation of wildlife. This means it regards practices such as hunting as important in the sustainable management of wildlife resources.

Hunting will be important in that the revenue generated from the practice will be used to further conserve the resources. In short elephants pay for their own upkeep.

SADC as a region will go to CITES speaking with one voice. Despite being the smallest in terms of geography, the region consists of more than 60 percent of the world’s global elephants. This is also the region where hundreds have been killed and thousands maimed in human wildlife conflicts.

Recently, there has been lots of movements of elephants and other wild animals out of the protected areas into communities and an increase in Human-Wildlife Conflicts.

There is, therefore, a lot of talk in the conservation circles for a deliberate move towards utilisation of elephants through hunting to ensure that communities benefit from the resources around them in line with our conviction of sustainable utilisation of wildlife. In an effort to reduce human-wildlife conflict, the authority has been restocking animals in areas where they are underpopulated. For instance, in 2018 Zimparks translocated 100 elephants from Save Valley Conservancy to Hurungwe Safari Area.

In an effort to show that the authority means what it says in the fight against poaching, it has managed to bust at least 40 syndicates, leading to the arrest of 3 605 locals and 376 foreigners over the last 5 years. However, Zimparks is in need of resources to fight this menace, there is need for law enforcement, vehicles for patrols, radio communication, awareness on stakeholders so that they appreciate the dangers of illegal wildlife trade and poaching.