In a few weeks, Zimbabwe rekindles its fight for the lifting of the ivory trade ban during the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in South Africa. At about 80 000, the country’s elephant herd has already started destabilising the ecosystem. Zimbabwe wants trade in ivory to resume so that revenues from legal trade could be used to fund conservation programmes. Ahead of the conference, Kaddu Sebunya (KS), president of one of Africa’s largest conservation groups, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), visited Zimbabwe to exchange notes with authorities. During his visit, Senior Business Reporter, Shame Makoshori (SM) had an opportunity to discuss with him issues around CITES, and the state of wildlife in Zimbabwe. Below are excerpts of their discussion.
Welcome to Zimbabwe. Could you tell us more about the AWF?
We support African governments to develop conservation approaches and strategies that are uniquely African. We want to support Africans to benefit from conservation. We have a budget of about US$27 million, and employ 180 workers across Africa.
What is the purpose of your visit to Zimbabwe?
I am visiting Zimbabwe because we have programmes here. We have been working in Zimbabwe for quite some time. Zimbabwe is very important to us. The reasons why Zimbabwe is so important are many. But just to pluck one item; Zimbabwe has the second largest population of elephants in the world. If you want to conserve elephants, you should involve Zimbabwe in any strategy. Zimbabwe is doing a very good job. Having the second largest elephant population is not a small thing. I am also here to learn what Zimbabwe is doing right.
I am curious about the timing of your visit. The CITES meeting will be taking place in South Africa soon. Zimbabwe is not happy with the position taken by countries that are refusing to legalise trade in ivory. In fact, the feeling here is that these countries are ignorant of the destruction that a huge elephant herd can cause to the environment.
As a non-governmental organisation, we don’t really have a position. We are not a government. But we wish our (African) governments well during the discussions. They are going to come up with a position that we are going to support. We will support an African voice around these CITES issues. There are very delicate and challenging issues that governments have to deal with. As for our role around CITES as citizens of Africa, there are two issues. The first one is (that) Africa must speak with one voice. Africans need to promote an African idea. What is it that pan-Africans want to do with their wildlife? We would like to see a uniquely African idea that we can take to CITES. Secondly, I would like to hear the African media adding its voice on what they think. We would like to hear bankers, lawyers and students saying what they want as African citizens. Not only what governments are going to negotiate at CITES.
Are those the only issues?
No! We also want to hear what people in the villages are saying. What do they want? We are working with others to implement the pan-African agenda and part of that is increasing the pan-African voice, discussing and taking positions. We don’t want you (Africans) to leave your people in the village. They need to have a say. We want everybody in that room at CITES to hear the African voice. We will work in partnership with you (the media).
You have met with authorities here. What are their concerns?
Everybody is concerned about the illegal poaching of our wildlife resources. The resources we have, especially wildlife, are African resources. They are our heritage. So every African government will be concerned about the reduction in the number of animals, the poaching, and the management of our wildlife assets. Poaching is an illegal activity. Looking at the population of elephants, the government here is taking poaching seriously; otherwise they would not be managing that big population. It is an enormous responsibility.
How bad is poaching both in Zimbabwe and Africa?
What poaching is doing to us today is what another form of poaching did to our grandmothers and grandfathers a century ago, if you remember our history well, through slavery. People came here and picked our brothers and sisters. Today, we keep asking what did our mothers and fathers, our ancestors, do to prevent slavery. People just came here, took our people and sold them off! No African benefited from that. But back to poaching; your children and your grandchildren will also ask you the same question 40 to 50 years from now. They will say: what did you do to prevent poaching? They will ask us how we lost all our elephants. Poaching is dire. I think we are under a serious crisis in Africa. Africa, for the last couple of years, has been losing 30 000 elephants annually. Many African countries have, in the last 30 years, lost all their rhino populations. All! It is now Zero! It is worrying! We have lost elephants through poaching, trafficking, not through any legal mechanism. That is the crisis we are against as AWF. Our lion population has halved globally. We need to do something about it. If we don’t do anything about that, Africa will lose all its lions in the next 20 years, in your lifetime.
You seem to imply that animals and human beings have the same status?
I am not trying to equate animals to human beings. But the mechanics that happened many years ago are exactly the same now. What happened to our brothers and sisters during slavery (has returned through poaching). When poachers come here and they (illegally) do international trade in ivory, that money does not go to any government’s Treasury. Still, there is no benefit to Africans.
What is AWF doing to address this in Zimbabwe?
There are a number of things we are doing to prevent illegal trade (in ivory). We need to stop the illegal killings and stop the trafficking. I don’t think any Zimbabwean is buying rhino horns here. In Zimbabwe, most of our programmes are concentrated on stopping the killing. We are supporting programmes that are addressing ranger patrols. We are training, arming and giving technical advice in a number of programmes to stop rhino poaching. Because you (Zimbabwe) are doing very well in elephants compared to other countries, we think rhinos need to be conserved. They are in a few countries. I come from Uganda and we lost the rhino. I know what it is like to lose the rhino. But you are on the frontline of this war in Zimbabwe.
Is this decimation of the wildlife population associated with Africa’s economic boom?
There are opportunities which are coming out of this boom. But the boom has also impacted on wildlife. This period of Africa’s boom is the same period when poaching has been rising. It is time for Africa to start discussions around this issue. What is the role of the African wildlife in our economic development? In Zimbabwe, you need to sit down and say in 40 years, what do you want to see in your wildlife estates?
You have touched on issues around lions. Should we also be concerned here in Zimbabwe?
Your lion population is still healthy. Zimbabwe has done very well around the lion population. The threat in Zimbabwe is more around the rhino. The elephant situation is not as worrying as that of the rhino. But let’s not concentrate so much on animals as if they dwell in living rooms. The real threat is on the habitat. We need to start talking about the space. What space does Africa want to leave for wildlife? Our human population is increasing and we are urbanising fast. If the population of Zimbabwe is going to double, what space will we leave for wildlife? These are some of the issues we have been looking at as African Wildlife Foundation.
How about human/wildlife conflict?
We will not be successful unless Africans directly benefit from wildlife. I am not very sure about Zimbabwe but most lions in other countries have been lost because of retaliation by communities. When a lion eats cattle, villagers retaliate. The media must support the discussion on how Africa wants to develop with the resources it has. With Zimbabwe, the greatest asset you have is your wildlife. It cannot be exhausted if it is managed sustainably. This idea that we have minerals, those are exhaustible, and you find them in many countries. You can find diamonds in so many places; you can find oil in so many places. Your wildlife is only found in Zimbabwe. The population of elephants you have is only found in Zimbabwe.
You said our government is doing well in wildlife conservation?
I am thrilled by the vision, dedication and energy she (Environment, Water and Climate Change Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri) is giving to wildlife management. It is encouraging to see ministers like her being very enthusiastic, and empowered too, to do what she is doing. The message I am getting out of Zimbabwe is that African wildlife, which is in Zimbabwe, is in the right hands. Look at how you are managing the population of elephants. It is not easy managing the second largest elephant population in the world.