Southern Times – Africa

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Sinikiwe Marodza

ZIMBABWE and other countries from within the SADC region are due to go up against tough opponents when 182 countries gather for the world’s most important wildlife trade conference, the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) scheduled for Colombo, Sri Lanka, in June. With a record number of proposals and agenda items, the stage is now set for a bruising fight where Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa want to win rights to allow them to resume ivory trading to beef up their conservation budgets. Sinikiwe Marodza (SM), The Southern Times correspondent, took some time to chat with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) spokesperson Tinashe Farawo (TF), who takes us through the challenges Zimbabwe and the rest of the SADC region is facing due to the CITES 1975 international ivory trade ban. Farawo also talks about Zimbabwe’s determination to win the fight, despite the stiffness of the challenge. Read on!

SM: It’s been close to 30 years of fruitless fights against the CITES ban on ivory trade, with the CoP18 to the CITES approaching, how prepared is Zimbabwe to go and continue the fight in Sri-Lanka?

TF: Zimbabwe is not discouraged by the fact that we have been fighting without winning for the past years. We are the ones going through the misery caused by the CITES ban and giving up is not an option.

SM: “We are the ones going through the misery caused by the CITES ban”, what do you mean?

TF: This ban was meant to save species from extinction, but the result is far from that. Currently, Zimbabwe is battling an ever growing elephant population three to four times its carrying capacity. The world has got about 400 000 elephants and three quarters of that population is within the SADC region. Zimbabwe alone has a total of 84 000 elephants. That’s a big number considering the fact that the normal carrying capacity for one elephant is five square kilometres. We have encountered and we are still going through a lot of problems because elephants in our country are over populated, and they are now competing for resources with people. In areas like Hwange, where the largest population of elephants is found, there is no water and that area depends on 100 percent borehole water. Now my question is: ‘where is the world assuming we are getting money to drill enough boreholes to sustain elephants?’ Imagine how simple it was going to be if the elephants where used to sustain themselves, if we were allowed  to trade ivory internationally, we wouldn’t be stressing about taking care of these species since they will be taking care of themselves.

SM: Colman Ocrioclain, a wildlife trade expert with the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust conservation group, was once quoted as saying, “the Sri-Lanka meeting should focus on enforcing anti-trafficking measures of any elephant product (skin, hair, Ivory), instead of engaging in sterile debates about whether to trade legally. Does such kind of perspectives threaten your efforts and preparations for the CoP18 CITES convention?

TF: The west must not dictate or tell us how to manage our own resources, in fact, allow me to quote Botswana President Mokgwetsi Masisi’s words: “It startles and bamboozles me when people sit in the comfort of where they come from and lecture to us about the management of the species they don’t have. They want to admire from a distance and in the admiration of those species, they forget that we too are species. They talk as if we are the trees and grass that the elephants feed on.”  What I am only trying to make people understand here is that those who do not have elephants do not understand the impact of having a country over populated by elephants. They don’t understand how it feels to lose a relative to the elephant-human conflict, they don’t know how it feels to lose your livelihood to these elephants. In fact, they just don’t understand the concept of living in an elephant overpopulated country where human and animals conflict for resources. These people from the west are just talking and imposing rules on us because they are not in our situation so they cannot understand what we go through. However, Zimbabwe will not give up until our wish is granted, we are ready for the CoP18, we are prepared enough to face the world and stand for our right to trade ivory.

SM: But there are some countries in Africa who are saying the ivory ban is a good way to preserve our elephants, what do you have to say about such countries?

TF: My wish is to see all African countries joining hands in this fight, we should be benefiting from these animals, not the other way round. However, I am not in a position to speak for other countries so allow me to speak for the one country I know, which is Zimbabwe.