Region’s wildlife under serious threat (Namibia and Zimbabwe)


Lazarus Sauti, The Southern Times

Date Published

Namibia and Zimbabwe are blessed with a variety of wild animals such
as buffaloes, elephants, leopards, lions, Lichtenstein’s hartebeests,
rhinoceros, antelopes, zebras, pangolins, roan antelopes, the painted
dogs (also known as wild dogs) and giraffes.

These and other wild animals are a gift of nature to the countries, as
they provide a wide range of ecological, economic and cultural
importance in relation to the human existence.

Sadly, the future of wild animals in Namibia and Zimbabwe is under
serious threat, thanks to increased poaching, corruption, illegal
trans-border trade of live animals, poverty, poor funding, poisoning
of waterholes with cyanide and human impact on their homes.

In Namibia, increased incidents of poaching and smuggling of wildlife
products has increased to calls for stiffer penalties for offenders.

The elephant population in Zimbabwe, for instance, and as per the
African Wildlife Foundation – which is on zero tolerance against
poaching and wildlife trafficking campaign, has dropped by 6.8 percent
to 82,000 in 2014 from 88,000 three years earlier.

In the last two years, hundreds of elephants have died in the Hwange
and Matusadona National parks, as local and foreign poachers poisoned
watering holes with cyanide, which is widely used in the country’s
mining sector and somewhat easy to obtain due to lax controls.

As a result, the country is losing a lot of revenue, and since 2015
the country lost ivory worth more than US$3.2 million to poaching and
other wildlife crime.

Zimbabwe is also losing its black and white rhinoceros due to illegal
hunting – and things are getting worse as 51 rhinoceros were killed by
poachers in the country’s game reserves in 2015.

“Rhinoceros are targeted by armed gangs due to the belief in Vietnam
and China that ground-up horns cured ailments such as cancer,” says
Lisa Marabini of the Aware Trust Zimbabwe (ATZ) conservation group.

Crocodiles are also under threat as their eggs are illegally harvested
by wildlife smugglers on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi.

Like ivory and rhino horns, crocodile products are reportedly being
illegally exported to South Africa and Asia.

Despite arrests and long-term sentences given to pangolin capturers,
dealers and traffickers in Zimbabwe, there is also an increased
seizure of live pangolins, pangolins scales, skins and other products
in the country.

Last year alone, says the wildlife based nongovernmental organisation
Tikki Hywood Trust, Zimbabwe handled over 20 criminal cases involving
pangolin poachers and an analysis of the arrest trends shows that most
of the poaching cases recorded in the period 2015-2016 originated
around game reserves in the provinces of Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

“Nevertheless, Harare remains the pangolin trade area where live
pangolin and product buyers as well as trafficking kingpins with
external links to South Africa, the South-East Asia and Middle Eastern
markets, allegedly operate from,” the trust adds.

Exports are also threatening the country’s wildlife and in 2015, 24
young elephants were sent to Chimelong Safari Park near Guangzhou in
China. Forlornly, one of the elephants died in December the same year
due to suspected pneumonia, due to harsh conditions caused by weather
and other environmental changes.

According to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks), the
government also exported 35 African elephants from Hwange National
Park to China on December 23, 2016.

Environmental researcher, Simbarashe Mpofu, says the destruction of
wild habitats for housing and agricultural purposes, unsustainable
fishing, illegal hunting and pollution, magnified by global warming,
are to blame for the extinction of wild animal species.

“These factors are also threatening the security as well as
livelihoods of the local people, especially vulnerable communities
within elephant ranges in the country,” he says, adding that illegal
hunting is the most contiguous threat to elephants in the Sebungwe and
Zambezi Valley.

As habitat loss expands due to agriculture and urbanisation, adds
Mpofu, human and wildlife conflicts have also soared.

Judging by the dramatic decline of wild animals in the country, he
affirms, it is safe to conclude that existing strategy and policy
responses are ineffective.

As such, radical and wise approaches towards using as well as managing
all types of the country’s resources in order to meaningfully improve
the wellbeing of both the people and the environment are urgently

“One such radical approach is a deep-seated change in how the country
views wild animals and wild areas,” he says, adding: “Current habitat
protection laws observe wild areas as the property of human beings.
This must change if the country is to effectively protect wild animals
and transform economically.”

Mpofu seems to be taking a leaf from the author of ‘Animal Property: A
Theory of Habitat Rights for Wild Animals’, John Hadley, who believes
it is high time countries like Zimbabwe should give property rights to
wild animals and save them from extinction.

“An animal property rights system would give animals a ‘voice’ during
the land management decision-making processes that put their lives at
risk,” Hadley says.

Obviously, he avows, animals cannot speak for themselves and some
mechanism is needed to facilitate the concept of an animal seat at the
development table, and a person eligible to serve as an animal
property rights guardian would need to have knowledge and skills in
relevant fields such as ecology, animal welfare or land management.

Notably, Hadley says animal property rights should not be designed to
bring a halt to development, but “to promote the values of existing
conservation policies by encouraging land managers to think about wild
areas in an altogether new way – as the property of resident animals.”

Environmentalist, Edson Nyahwa, urges the government, at every level,
to block conduits for illegal trade in ivory, rhino horns and
pangolins, a fact supported by Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe
Conservation Task Force, who believes the arrest and long-term
conviction of local poachers is encouraging, but the problem would
continue if the crackdown excludes leaders and financiers of the
syndicates which are the drivers and/or enablers of the illicit trade.

The leaders and financiers of the syndicates, admits Rodrigues, roam
free because the law in the country is not building on information
gathered from the runners to get to the syndicates as well as
financiers of the trade.

As for the African Wildlife Foundation, the government has the
capacity to do more to control poaching and wildlife trafficking, but
all it needs is to enact strict and punitive legislative for wildlife

Ecologists, Peace Sibanda, believes there is need for workshops to
train aviation staff and security officers in the country on advanced
cargo inspection techniques so as to effectively detect and prevent
the smuggling of live pangolins and other animal products.

He also says the government needs to join hands with the International
Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) as well as regional countries
in wildlife conservation activities.

“Recently, Interpol launched a project to identify and dismantle
organised crime networks that are making billions in illicit profits
through wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia; accordingly, the
government should conduct joint operations with Interpol to combat
environmental crimes,” he says.

Though Zambia and Zimbabwe are working together and sharing
information on the protection of wildlife in the Zambezi Valley, adds
Sibanda, more regional countries need to join hands in wildlife
conservation strategies.

Geoffreys Matipano, parks authority acting director general, says
personnel from the parks authority should be adequately funded to
access resources such as patrol equipment.

He also urged the government to provide grants for wildlife
conservation, a fact supported by development practitioner, Masimba
Mavhudzi, who also encourages the government to engage individuals in
fighting poaching and other environmental crimes.

“Protecting the country’s wildlife is a collective responsibility; in
view of that, the government and its development partners as well as
stakeholders in the wildlife management sector should encourage
individuals living next to game parks to stop collaborating with
poachers, but stand up for what is right for sustainable development,”
Mavhudzi says.

“For this to be effective, communities living close to game parks
should immensely benefit from wildlife.”

“We have to protect our wildlife and the best avenue is to show the
people that they have economic value, agrees conservationist,”
Christopher Magadza.

“If people do not think wildlife can be a source of income, they will
kill the species to create space for agricultural production,” he

Zimbabwe and other regional sates, adds researcher Collence Chisita,
should resist imposition of external sustainable development values.

He believes the imposition of external sustainable development values
makes countries like Zimbabwe fail to reach consensus when it comes to
making key decisions that affect their future within United Nations
international environmental agreements such as the Convention on the
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

“Despite consensus from most Southern African Development Community
(SADC) countries to lift a ban on trade in ivory, CITES maintained it
restrictions late last year,” he says.

Prior to the meeting, SADC countries, in particular Namibia and
Zimbabwe, submitted a proposal to CITES seeking amendment of the
present Appendix II listing of their elephants by removing
restrictions that bar them from selling stockpiles on the
international market, and the meeting voted against the proposal.

Southern Africa argued that the ban in ivory trade will not only erode
the revenue base for wildlife conservation, but can lead to increased
cases of poaching as well as other environmental crimes as local
communities are not benefitting from ivory trade proceeds.