Hunting: The elephant in the room


Leroy Dzenga, The Southern Times

Date Published
Authorities in Zimbabwe face an oxymoronic choice that is seemingly tough but practically easy.

The country has a growing elephant population last counted at 84,000, which the available space and resources cannot sustain.

With a carrying capacity of 50,000, this means that Zimbabwe has gone beyond the acceptable threshold by 34,000, which translates to stretched resources.

In a bid to manage the growing numbers while at the same time raising revenue for conservation, the government gave the greenlight to elephant trophy hunting.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority recently sought and got approval to put up 500 elephants for trophy hunting. The move was informed by the need to ensure that the reduction of numbers in a way finances the conservation of the remaining elephants, which are in dire need of more boreholes, as there is a stark water shortage in national parks.

ZimParks head of communication Tinashe Farawo said the authority could not afford to fold its hands as the elephant population burgeoned out of control.

“The downside of the high elephant population is conflict, especially with local communities who live with wildlife and or share boundaries with the major protected areas. In the past five years, nearly 500 human lives and 582 cattle were lost to wildlife attacks,” Farawo said.

The 500 elephants are expected to fetch between US$7,000 and US$10,000 each, which could amount to between US$350,000 and US$500,000 aggregated.

ZimParks say they have intentions of ploughing back some of the money into the communities surrounding areas in which these elephants are being kept.

“In order for our people to appreciate the importance of these animals as economic enablers, we need resources to build schools, clinics, roads and economic infrastructure from these natural resources.

“Wildlife must contribute resources for community development, management of human-wildlife conflicts and its conservation. This can only be achieved by allowing us to trade in wildlife particularly elephants,” said Farawo.

But the usual suspects are angry, arguing that elephants are endangered and should not be hunted, even in a highly regulated manner.

This is despite the fact that Zimbabwe does not have a lack of elephants and its herd is healthy, by any description. Further, only Botswana has more elephants – and it too is grappling with that population.

Countries without elephants want to make Zimbabwe suffer for their own inadequacies.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the African elephant is a specie under threat.

However, it does not get to give a nuanced take on the intricacies of the threats which face the elephants.

In other countries, indeed the threat could be emanating from a point of low numbers, however in Zimbabwe the headache is from too many numbers.

Currently, Zimbabwe is suffering from what are known as diseconomies of scale, it is irresponsible for authorities to keep presiding over elephants that exceed the carrying capacity by far.

This is likely to result in resource competition and those that struggle with the fight of the fittest, go on to attack nearby homes.

In 2020 alone, about 60 lives were lost in human wildlife conflict and if nothing is done more could fall victim.

There is a visible Eurocentric outrage palpable in those who are opposed to the move, they try and gaslight Zimbabwe into feeling bad about the idea without bringing to the fore alternatives that are practicable.

Rhetoric in conference rooms does not help women in areas like Gokwe, who have to contend with encountering elephants as they go to fetch household water.

Zimbabwe is signatory to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a convention which originally sought to protect endangered species and plants but is now increasingly appearing to be an extension of economic sanctions.

The country has a stockpile of more than 130 tonnes of ivory and over five tonnes of rhino horn but is unable to sell because of CITES.

As a result, the vaults which store the ivory are now filled to the brim and Zimbabwe now has an extra cost of wading off poachers trying to land their hands on the ivory.

CITES as a platform has been deemed problematic, as it appears to be a case of those without cattle determining days on which the dip tank opens.

There is an element of sentiment in the way that natural resources are treated by countries, common sense and textbook approaches though noble fall short.

The manner in which a Zimbabwean connects with the idea of land is dissimilar to the way a Canadian feels about the same resource.

Same applies to the elephants, when Zimbabwe decides to trim its herd, it is not because of lack of compassion but it is a result of pragmatic reflections.

Zimbabwe is under illegal sanctions, access to funding especially from banks is not easy.

Doors are shut in the faces of Zimbabwean institutions.

This is why fund raising efforts are always inward looking.

These are the issues that platforms like CITES overlook and they come up with blanket statements, protocols of how things should operate.

Before anything, a country owes its people life and Zimbabweans would feel hard done if their lives were put in danger to impress white people in Brussels.

Opening up elephants to trophy hunting is not the easiest decisions to take, by any measure, but it is far less harder than watching people die from human-wildlife conflict.

Maybe it is time to go back to the discussion table and for an Afrocentric conversation on conservation, with those who have borne the brunt of having overpopulated reserves to lead the conversation as they speak from experience.

Africa deserves to be respected when it decides on how to manage its natural resources.