African elephant populations of Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are in CITES Appendix II, meaning that commercial international trade in the species is allowed.
However, since 2007, CITES regulations on trade in elephant and elephant products for Zimbabwe have an annotation affecting Zimbabwe’s population Appendix II, which restricts trade in hunting trophies for non-commercial purposes, trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations, trade in hair, hides, and leather goods for non-commercial purposes and trade in registered raw ivory for whole tasks and pieces. This annotation is valid for a period of nine years from CoP14 to 2017.
It is true that Zimbabwe and Namibia have submitted to the CITES secretariat proposals seeking to remove annotation for the African elephant in order to achieve unqualified trade in the species. Zimbabwe and Namibia are further asking CITES to finalise and approve the development of a decision-making mechanism for a process of trade in ivory.
On the other hand, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Sri Lanka have submitted a proposal to transfer the African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from Appendix II to I. If these countries’ proposal wins at CITES COP17, there will be a ban on trade in our elephants.
Further, all or in various groupings the following countries – Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Senegal – submitted proposals asking CITES to close domestic markets for elephant ivory, to destroy ivory stockpiles in countries holding the tusks, and to stop trade in live elephants and to stop the development of a decision-making mechanism for a process of trade in ivory.
The implications of uplifting of the African elephant from Appendix II to Appendix I are outlined below.
Funding for Elephant Conservation
Zimbabwe’s Protected Area Management system is self-funding in nature. This means, therefore, that the resource protection budget is financed through the sustainable utilisation of the various wildlife resources therein. The African elephant is one of the biggest drawcard species from a hunting perspective, and is at the centre of all the major hunts in the country.
Generally, hunting contributed an average of US$22 mllion to the country’s GDP in 2014 and 2015 (RBZ Exchange control report on hunting tourism in Zimbabwe) and contributes about 20 percent annually to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority revenue budget. The annual offtake quota provided through CITES is for 500 elephants per annum. It is the utilisation of these offtake quotas that contributes significantly to Zimbabwe’s conservation budget.
Human and Elephant Conflict
A total of 38 elephants were put down in 2014; 49 in 2015 and so far 12 elephants have been eliminated for crop raiding, killing people and destroying property. At least 21 people were killed and another 12 injured by elephants during the past five years from 2011 to July 2016.
Every time there is human-elephant conflict, the communities need to see that action is taken by the authorities, either through compensation for loss and/or damage and through eliminating further potential threats. Any inaction by the authorities usually results in communities taking matters into their own hands, to the detriment of the wildlife resources therein. However, where communities derive benefit and where there are locally designed and built-in mechanisms for compensation for the whole community through the utilisation of the resources, the communities tend to be more tolerant towards the animals.
Elephant damage to the community includes the destruction of crops, which impacts negatively on food security, destruction of property, depletion of water sources, destruction of water infrastructure, reduced grazing land and restricted access to essential commodities such as firewood.
Zimbabwe opposes counter proposals from the countries mentioned above for the following major reasons:
Generally, most of the decisions that we continue to experience as a nation point more to political than scientific considerations. In addition to this, the well-funded “Green Lobby” dominates participation at the CoP. Developing countries usually struggle to participate effectively, which fact the green lobby takes advantage of.
# International Conventions and Agreements, like the “Convention on Biological Diversity” and the “Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity”, confirm the right and the need for the sustainable use of natural resources. Sustainable use does not rule out the protection of wildlife and natural environments, for example, in the form of national parks.
# The counter proposals overlook the need to recognise the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable use of Biodiversity. Article 2 defines the term sustainable use as “the use of components of biodiversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long term decline of biodiversity, thereby maintaining the potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations”.
# The counter proposals essentially infringe upon Zimbabwe’s sovereign right to make decisions over its wildlife resources, for the benefit of its economy and its citizens without interference. The proposal focuses more on decline in populations as a result of demand and increase in poaching from international criminal syndicates. The proposal seeks to unify African elephants in one listing under the pretext that this would offer maximum protection under CITES. Instead of an outright ban on trade, the African elephant must remain in Appendix II for countries like Zimbabwe whose communities rely on the value of the natural resource for their livelihood through the utilisation of these species.
# Demand will always exist for various reasons like medicinal or cultural beliefs even if commercial trade is banned and therefore instead of an outright ban, the trade of the elephant must simply be regulated to avoid extinction. The African elephant is not a menace but an asset to the country. The proposal accepts that there is demand for the commodity and by that same virtue we should benefit from our good conservation efforts and huge elephant populations. It is critical to stop the illegal market, but there are also ways of doing this without affecting the economy of the country through increasing our law enforcement effort.
# When the elephant travels throughout its range, it is welcomed by some as a magnificent, awe inspiring creature. Elsewhere, it is uninvited – looked upon as a destructive, voracious pest capable of devouring an entire season’s crop in a single afternoon. Because the elephant is capable of such havoc and because of the economic and social climate of Zimbabwe, the elephant’s existence remains threatened (especially if no value is derived from it).
# Indigenous knowledge systems have played a pivotal role in conservation. Indigenous knowledge and traditional systems assign totems to most indigenous people of Zimbabwe. The various totems are almost entirely wildlife-based with various peoples having totems like the elephant, lion, eland, monkey, and fish among many others. These totems ensure a level of respect for the various species by the grouping to which the people belong. Culturally, a people belonging to a particular totem do not consume any part of that animal. In that respect, the various groups protect their own totems and they become subject of folklore. The counter proposals serve to remove the value from the species and also attacks the social setting of the Zimbabwean community at large.
# The communities within the elephant ranges suffer the brunt of the elephant problems. Their hostility to a protectionist approach to conservation is unmatched, and with good reason. For the poor rural communities, the elephant does nothing but destroy their crops, houses, and ruin their livelihood.
For the elephants to prosper, the people who live with the elephants need to be financially secure. In the absence of financial security or value from the elephant, it is obvious that the elephant will come out second best because it will be seen quite correctly as a vexatious and omnipresent pest. It is a fact that the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) appears to have alleviated some of the pressures put on the poor rural communities to indiscriminately kill elephants by institutionalising ties between conservation and economic gain. By engaging local people in the management of their own resources, CAMPFIRE has provided economic and ecological stability.
# In CAMPFIRE areas, a significant portion of the revenue generated from sport hunting is re-invested in wildlife conservation. On average, US$1.5 million per year in net income directly benefits local communities. This income is derived from the lease of sport hunting rights to safari operators. If hunting is no longer an economically viable form of land use, communities will choose pastoralism and unviable agriculture, which reduces habitat available for elephants.
Taking space away from elephants means more human and elephant conflict resulting in more retaliatory killings of elephants, poaching and collusion with poaching syndicates. Local communities will only find an incentive to protect elephants if they can derive economic benefit from such a resource.
# The up-listing to Appendix I will negatively affect Zimbabwe’s efforts to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through poverty reduction and rural development. Apart from funding conservation, CAMPFIRE income is used for community projects in the fields of education, health and other livelihood support services in rural areas. Other benefits from elephant hunting include meat which is availed to rural communities providing the much needed protein. The up-listing onto Appendix I will result in reduced benefits flowing to local communities in Zimbabwe (through the CAMPFIRE programme).
With the diminishing wildlife benefit, local communities may not support any conservation efforts and instead human-wildlife conflicts will be heightened and more wildlife land might be turned into other land use options that are deemed profitable by communities.
# Ultimately, the up-listing of the African elephant may potentially derail conservation efforts. The history of clashes between the African elephant and communities illustrates the need to tie their fortunes in a more meaningful way to their resources.
# The local safari hunting industry, constituted by a healthy balance of indigenous and non-indigenous players will have huge losses in revenue. Besides direct benefits from safari hunting such as cash and employment, indirect benefits arise from the multiplier effect in downstream activities such as taxidermists, dipping and packing companies, freight companies, ivory manufacturers etc.
The annual CITES export quota for Zimbabwe is a maximum of 500 elephants (or 500 pairs of tusks). Between 2005 and 2009 total hunting receipts peaked at US$360,125,327 over the five-year period (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe figures). This translates to an average of US$72,025,065 per year. Of the total hunting revenue in the country, elephant hunting contributes in excess of US$14 million every year.
# The protectionist idealism is contrary to economic development in Zimbabwe. The growth of the tourism economy in Zimbabwe is partially hinged upon the sustainable utilisation of the resources found within the country. The uplifting of the elephant will exert pressure on the other resources to step in and replace the contribution that was being made by the elephant (which is unfathomable) to the detriment of any conservation efforts in the country.
# Any attempts to up-list the species can be viewed as a direct economic threat for the communities that subsist from the sustainable utilisation philosophy.
The Conservation Imperative
Some 13.1 percent of Zimbabwe’s land area is under the Parks Estate. Zimbabwe also has 58 CAMPFIRE districts involved in conservation bringing the total to 30 percent of the country’s state land which is dedicated to wildlife conservation. The private sector has also invested heavily in wildlife conservation. Out of all this, about 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s state land conducts hunting tourism safaris.
# The majority of these areas coincide with elephant range in Zimbabwe. At the moment, due to the economic value attached to the elephants, there is a huge incentive for conservation. The up-listing may lead to the conversion of land to other more profitable types of economic land-uses such as cropping, mining etc. Again this has the potential to increase settlement pressure in areas which were previously reserved for wildlife thus threatening the elephant range.
# The Hwange ecosystem depends on the artificial supply of water for the elephants and other species. This has caused local overabundance of the species. Due to this fact, there has been significant habitat modification in the Hwange ecosystem. Certain bird species have been known to go extinct where elephants exist. The ecosystem is clearly only able to contain a certain number of elephants without buckling. Therefore, any ban in trade will result in excessive pressure on the environment leading to an ecological disaster in the areas affected.
# The CAMPFIRE programme has expanded the wildlife range in Zimbabwe. However, its collapse through the ban will reverse this situation and create increased human and wildlife conflict since the buffer for human and wildlife conflict would have been removed and ultimately there will be increased illegal off take in the core range. This move will certainly impact on wildlife conservation, the economy, community livelihoods and the effects of this ban are explained below;
# Furthermore, sport hunters complement the effort of our first line of defence and are an important factor in ground intelligence, surveillance and a deterrent to poaching. It is therefore clear that the collapse of the hunting sector will have a negative impact on conservation efforts. Zimbabwe’s conservation is based on the principle of sustainable utilisation, that the various species that are being conserved must contribute to conservation. This is the major source of funding for conservation. Zimbabwe would rather that the global community helps to combat poaching and tackle the illegal markets for ivory and remove them as a threat to our wildlife resources.
We believe that channelling our efforts towards effective anti-poaching and wildlife crime curbing is the most fundamental issue of concern, rather than “devaluation” of the species altogether through up-listing to Appendix I. Such measures have historically proven to be ineffective. Generally, trade bans have never produced the desired outcome. They actually tend to create a scarcity value, and serve to drive the ivory prices through the roof. Case in point is the rhinoceros. CITES should adopt a separate approval process where countries like Zimbabwe with growing populations should remain in Appendix II without annotations while countries with depleting elephant populations should be uplifted to Appendix 1 to enable growth of their populations. Zimbabwe believes CITES should NOT adopt “a one-size-fits-all” approach and each case should be dealt with on its own merits. The counter proposals are not in their entirety a true reflection of the elephant situation in Africa, as we have countries like ourselves battling with large populations and over-abundances in a lot of areas.
*Muchinguri-Kashiri is Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister.