Zimbabwe has accumulated more than 90 tonnes of elephant tusks which it cannot dispose due to the international ban on trade in ivory, Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri says.
A ban by China and the US as well as a 2007 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) nine-year moratorium on the sale of ivory to protect elephants and rhinoceros, which were facing extinction has seriously eroded the much needed revenue for conservation programmes.
“We are holding more than 90 tonnes of ivory and we are losing some of the tusks,” Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said.
“The more we keep them, the more it’s tempting to a lot of people. Poaching will continue because there is a market out there. If we are permitted to do spot hunting and trade in a legal way, it will help us a lot.”
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority also holds more than five tonnes of rhino ivory which it cannot sell, due to restrictions on international ivory trade by Cites.
Following a nine-year moratorium by the Cites on ivory trade, Zimbabwe has battled to finance conservation programmes as well as access and benefit sharing schemes with impoverished communities surrounding the country’s protected areas.
Zimbabwe’s elephant population presently stands at around 100 000 against 45 000 which is the holding capacity.
“The US has been de-campaigning spot hunting and this has reduced our earnings we use for conservation efforts,” Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri says. “The ban is not helping us at all. Licenced hunters pay US$120 000 for one elephant and US$60 000 for a lion while they pay US$3 to view game. So without trophy hunting, it’s difficult for us to sustain conservation efforts.”
Most of the ivory held by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority was collected from conservancies and local rural district councils across the country.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri says the ban has pushed up poaching activity across the country as impoverished communities adjacent to protected areas took to this illegal activity as they were not benefiting from ivory trade proceeds.
So far this year, a total of 22 poachers were killed in combat action with Zimparks rangers while 900 were arrested.
“The three elephants ats poisoned food at a dumpsite in Kariba,” she says. “Officially, we have lost 35 elephants so far and we are concerned about this. The Environmental Management Agency is still carrying out investigation on how the elephants died in Kariba.”
Zimbabwe last sold its ivory in 2008 to Japan and China after Cites granted the country a once-off sale.
Wildlife authorities say Zimbabwe incurs significant costs in retrieving the ivory from the field, treating the ivory for preservation, transporting it to different centres for storage including maintaining security at various stations and at the head office.
They estimate that Zimbabwe spends close to US$13 million a year on security and administration costs.
Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa cut spending for the Environment, Water and Climate Ministry by 44 percent to US$52,7 million this year from US$93,5 million last year while spending for Zimparks has been maintained at US$3,8 million for the last two years.
Wildlife authorities further say that more than US$500 000 is needed each year to quench the great thirst of 43 000 elephants at Hwange National Park alone.
The Environment, Water and Climate Minister says the Government has set up an inter-ministerial task-force to beef up security in protected areas and address the poaching crisis.
“The human-wildlife conflict is driving up poaching,” she said. “There is the human-wildlife conflict on one hand and on the other, there is a conflict between Rural District Councils and parks on Campfire project proceeds.
“We want to address these conflicts and we have a team that was tasked to look into these issues.”
“Local communities must get 55 percent of proceeds that accrue from spot hunting but RDC have been taking 70 percent of the proceeds leaving communities with nothing,” she said.
“We are engaging them to resolve this. We are concerned, we need to share these proceeds with local communities.”
She said Zimbabwe needed to devise some strategies of beneficiation involving local communities that would explore ways to compensate farmers who would have lost their livelihoods through death, injury or destruction of crops and domestic animals by wild animals.
“Community involvement and sharing of benefits will help to curb poaching,” Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said. “Community involvement could yield wins for both conservation and livelihoods. It’s important in minimizing human – wildlife conflicts effectively.
“We need to look and compare models with other countries. Kenya does compensate locals using a flat rate. We have arrested more than 800 locals for poaching and this because they are not getting the benefits.”
She said she will present a report on the poaching problem to Cabinet soon.
“I hope this will provide strategies to solve this once and for all,” she said.
Zimbabwe and other African countries still holding significant elephant populations argue that ivory trade should not be banned because they have well-managed elephant populations and they need revenue from ivory sales to fund conservation.
These countries include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland.
Zimbabwe is desperate for funding to manage increasing encroachment into wildlife parks, to carry out repairs and maintenance work on the game reserve perimeter fence which were being vandalized by poachers and local communities seeking access to other natural resources.
Growing human population has resulted in increased demand for land resulting in human encroachment in game parks, forests and other ecosystems.
Porous borders, especially now when the major rivers on the borders are drying up owing to poor rains last season, have worsened poaching activity.
Other wildlife campaigners say while the ban on ivory is a noble development, they argue that it will be difficult to halt the booming trade in illicit ivory smuggled into licensed carving factories and stores in Asia and the US.
They say it will perpetuate the desire for ivory among wealthy people while stimulating demand for illegal ivory laundering.
Southeast Asia has become the major destination for illegal wildlife products over the last 10 years and wildlife campaigners say this has pushed up poaching activity.
Rampant poaching in the sub-Saharan range has resulted in the deaths of 100 000 elephants from 2011 to 2013, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Tanzania’s elephant population plummeted by 60 percent to 43 330 in the five years ending in 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census, carried out by a coalition of wildlife groups while Mozambique lost half its elephants in the same period, falling to 10 300.
Wildlife campaigners say the statistics “underscore the toxic mix of determined criminal gangs, corrupt government officials and a strong market for smuggled ivory in Asia — particularly in China — which has deepened its economic ties to Africa in recent years.”
A new round of cyanide poisonings in Zimbabwe killed 14 elephants in September while 26 more were found poisoned recently at two sites in the Hwange National Park, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.