Newsday

Veneranda Langa,
April 16, 2020

Parliament has recommended amendments to the Wildlife Act to provide protection for whistleblowers and ensure stiff penalties for those found in possession of cyanide, a dangerous chemical often used by poachers to poison elephants.

In its recent report on elephant management in Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks, the Environment Parliamentary Portfolio Committee said: “The Ministry of Environment should, by December 2021, amend the Parks and Wildlife Act to provide for the protection of whistleblowers and the rewarding system and incorporate deterrent custodial sentences.

“For instance, illegal cyanide possession does not have a deterrent sentence.

“It was the committee’s observation that to have a future, elephants must have a shared value between ZimParks and the communities surrounding national parks because the greater the value, the greater the tolerance of animals.”

Zimbabwe has an estimated elephant population of 84,000, with around 53,991 of the jumbos in the Hwange Zambezi Cluster.

A total of 115 elephants were killed by cyanide poisoning between 2013 and 2014. Although there has been a gradual decrease in cyanide poisoning of elephants, wildlife conservationists have expressed concern over the use of the dangerous chemical on wild animals.

The committee said government should come up with programmes that enable communities in wildlife areas to benefit from the animals so that they see the need to contribute towards combating poaching.

The committed added: “This view was echoed at the African Union-United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit held in Victoria Falls from June 23 to 25 2019 by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“He said Zimbabwe’s government recognises that the survival of wild animals depended entirely on those among whom they live, unless local people want to save them, wildlife would be poached to the point where just a few remain in fortified reserves.”

While the committee report emphasises on tolerance of wildlife by communities, it also pointed out that the increased elephant population in the country was also causing human-wildlife conflicts, resulting in ZimParks conducting research on these conflicts.

“The initial results are indicating that there is overpopulation of elephants which is negatively impacting on their management.”

Some of the methods to control the elephant population that the report suggested included culling, contraception and translocation.

“Translocation is stressful to elephants and can cause behaviour problems especially if family groups are disgruntled. Translocation is a limited option as there are few remaining places that can accommodate elephants successfully that have not already been utilised,” the committee said.

The Environment Portfolio Committee also recommended elephant sales and exports.

“The committee recommends that the Ministry of Environment lobby other like-minded African countries to negotiate at the next CITES Conference of Parties for free trade in hunting products as these have a positive impact on the national and local economies.

“Zimbabwe will realise significant revenue from elephant exports, and such revenue can be used to enhance conservation and sustainable wildlife management programmes,” the committee said.