Southern Times

The continued deaths of elephants in Botswana and Zimbabwe due to the drought is an indictment on those western states, together with their Africa acolytes, which denied the Southern African countries the right to sell their elephants to raise money for conservation.

As we reported last week, and again this week, hundreds of elephants are dying in national parks in Botswana and Zimbabwe as water sources dry up due to drought ravaging the region.  The deaths of the elephants is now making world headlines, yet those countries that denied Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe the right to dispose of their stockpiled ivory have remained mum and do not have a clue as to how to salvage the situation.

In Zimbabwe, costly mass relocations are now being planned to help the animals.  But the country cannot do this alone as it is going through serious economic challenges, with the drought also affecting millions of people who need food aid.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says at least 200 elephants have died in Hwange National Park alone. Hwange is the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuary on the border with Botswana.  Other wildlife species are also succumbing to the drought and shortage of water daily.

In Botswana, there have also been reports of elephants and hippos dying due to the drought. Watering holes previously full of water remain nearly empty, with elephant and buffalo carcasses becoming commonplace as they get stuck in clay trying to reach the small pools of water left.

The deaths of the elephants comes a few months after the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species on Flora and Fauna 18thConference of Parties (CITES COP18) in Geneva, Switzerland, refused to down list the African elephant from Appendix I to Appendix II so as to allow range states to trade in ivory that is stockpiled in several countries across the SADC region.

This would have enabled them to raise money to conserve the elephant and other wildlife species and enable wildlife and park authorities to utilise these funds in times like these to drill boreholes and buy stockfeed for the animals.  As it is, these countries cannot do this alone because it is costly to drill boreholes and translocate animals from drought affected areas to those areas that were not worst affected.  Chances are that they will be forced to approach donor nations, the same countries that denied them the right to sell their ivory to raise funds for wildlife conservation, for aid to translocate the animals and avert a catastrophe.  What an irony!

The world has got about 400 000 elephants and three quarters of that population is within the SADC region, a region that is being ravaged by the drought. That’s a big number considering the fact that the normal carrying capacity for one elephant is five square kilometres.  Elephants need huge amounts of water and chow large quantities of vegetation daily.  With climate change now upon us, the SADC region will continue to experience droughts and there is a need for serious investment in watering holes and other infrastructure to save wildlife.

Where are those so-called animal lovers and non-governmental organisations that spiritedly campaigned against the down-listing of the African elephant? Will they come on board to assist these Southern African countries? And at what cost?

The SADC states wanted CITES to allow limited trade in ivory so that they could use the funds raised for conservation efforts as well as developing poor communities that live alongside wildlife. Nothing more, nothing less. In any case, why should other countries that do not have elephants, be allowed to decide the fate of those animals and their peoples?

Recently we reported that Zimbabwe is sitting on an ivory stockpile worth US$600 million.  We believe Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are sitting on stockpiles worth much more than that.  The tragedy is that these countries are not allowed to sell this ivory in order to look after their wildlife and their people.  There is no reason why African states should continue begging for aid from western capitals when they are sitting on vast natural resources, including ivory, that can be sustainably utilised for the benefit of their peoples and wildlife.

Again, contrary to widespread fears that allowing ivory trade will result in increased poaching activities, we believe a lift in the ban on trade in ivory and elephant products to allow for controlled trade will have a more positive impact on those communities as the funds would be channeled towards conservation efforts.

There are sound conservation efforts in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe which have seen the elephant population ballooning to unstainable levels, hence the rise in human-elephant conflicts and a huge impact on the environment.

Besides, sound wildlife management has resulted in tourists flocking to these SADC countries which have created huge wildlife parks such as the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) and the Great Limpopo Transfontier Park, in the process bringing in the much-needed foreign currency.  It therefore defies logic that these countries are watching their elephant populations succumbing to drought while they struggle with translocating these animals to lesser affected areas.

We therefore call upon CITES to urgently allow for the disposal of the stockpile ivory so that the funds can be used to assist the starving wildlife and salvage the situation.  This is an hour of need for wildlife and those who claim to love the animals must come on board to assist.