GOVERNMENT’S intention to dispose of excess live elephants at a large commercial scale, is one of the noble investments Zimbabwe can make for the future of its people; to biodiversity; and also to expedite the implementation of effective wildlife management systems.
Seeing there is no shortage of wild animals in Zimbabwe, and that there is strong global demand, Government has resolved to offload some of its stock to the elephant-deprived countries of France, China and the United Arab Emirates.
There are nearly 80 000 elephants in the country’s game reserves and that’s twice as much Zimbabwe’s finite resources can handle.
A herd this big can be a nightmare for any developing country where conservation ranks low on the economic priority list.
Selling the excess elephants – numbering over 40 000 – will eliminate competition and conflict for limited resources such as water, forage and habitat between the animals themselves, and with humans.
An adult animal gallops no less than 200 litres of water each day. That’s approximately 16 million litres of water per day for all Zimbabwe’s herd, enough to nourish a small town like Rusape and its 30 000 residents.
In Hwange, which hosts the country’s biggest animal reserve with 43 000 elephants, water is a perennial challenge.
The area lies in agro-ecological zone 5, the driest region in the whole of Zimbabwe, where annual precipitation is below 400mm.
Some $500 000 will be needed annually to quench the great thirst of the animals at Hwange National Park alone, Mr Geoffreys Matipano, conservation director at Parks and Wildlife Authority of Zimbabwe told Bloomberg in December.
But live sales cuts this cost significantly and rakes in extra income that helps expand conservation beyond elephants, but also to include the different wildlife species around Zimbabwe.
Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesperson Ms Caroline-Washaya Moyo refused to provide data on the actual cost of each elephant, but it is understood that it can reach up to $60 000.
This could mean Zimbabwe earned over $400 000 when it shipped a family of seven elephants to the UAE late last year.
Earnings from the sale of 10 elephants will be enough to deliver a year’s water supply to the herd at Hwange National Park, hosting 28 000 more elephants than it can accommodate.
Wildlife trade is now a multi-billion dollar business. In the best case scenario, Zimbabwe could earn $2,4 billion assuming its excess herd is offloaded for the top price of $60 000.
There are numerous variables to consider before this data can be treated as fact. But this gives one a rough idea of what is that at stake. I doubt the Government of Zimbabwe’s decision to sell has been motivated by money.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere Saviour Kasukuwere and Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi have both affirmed to the global press the country’s elephant population was overstocked and difficult to manage.
And even when the potential earnings were a true motivating factor, so what? The country has a right to draw income from its natural resources, surely.
Wildlife is a natural resource in Zimbabwe, key to socio-economic development and deserving of national protection.
Disposing excess stock will not in any way diminish the socio-economic and environmental roles played by elephants in Zimbabwe. In more ways than one, these functions will be enhanced.
Better than culling
Worldwide, elephants are an endangered species, but in Zimbabwe they endanger human lives and livelihoods, and destroy biodiversity.
Countless media reports speak of the damage visited on crops and native forests by elephants, the biggest mammal on land weighing up to 6 000kg.
By degrading forests and destroying plant species, elephants are directly challenging the social and environmental dynamics in rural areas, which share borders with conservancies or national parks.
This is particularly grievous, occurring at a time when communities, already on the margins of society, have to contend with the dangerous impacts of climate change such as water scarcity and severe crop losses.
Forest degradation impacts negatively on climates at a micro-level. Carbon stocks depreciate, greenhouse gases emissions escalate and temperatures rise. Livelihoods for communities that depend on forests for income generation or food are disrupted.
Live animal sales represent the most appropriate, logical and efficient strategy to address existing national imbalances in biodiversity conservation.
It is better than culling (killing), a practice that decimated nearly 50 000 elephants in the 40 years to 1998 when it was eventually outlawed following pressure from conservationists who described culling as “inhumane.”
“This (live elephant sales) is a noble plan if the market can be found,” said Mr Peter Gondo, conservationist at Safire in Harare, a not-for-profit regional organisation promoting rural development through the sustainable management of natural resources.
Due to the over-population, as elephants forage for food, “they destroy own habitats and are being forced to move to areas outside the protected game areas resulting in increases in wildlife conflicts,” he said.
Examples of destroyed habitats are Mana Pools and Hwange National Park. Similar destruction is taking place in parts of Gonarezhou.
“Thus the option of relocation to lowly populated areas is desirable. If those who have the potential habitats are willing to pay for the animals then this is a bonus as the income generated can then be used to improve infrastructure for wildlife management in our parks,” Mr Gondo explained.
Those sponsored to oppose sales of elephants from Zimbabwe, like Pearce Brosnan, who once acted as the fictional James Bond character, need to gain special understanding of the country’s wildlife landscape before irresponsibly commenting on issues they do not fully comprehend.
Zimbabwe is not doing anything illegal nor is it violating international conventions. Under CITES, the global watchdog for endangered animal species, Zimbabwe’s elephants are listed in Appendix II, which allows for “trade in live animals to appropriate and acceptable destinations.”
These conditions have been met. CITES acknowledged as much in December.
“The CITES Scientific Authority of Zimbabwe has advised that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species,” the Secretariat of CITES said in a statement last month.
“The CITES Management Authority of Zimbabwe is satisfied that any living specimen will be so prepared and shipped as to minimise the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.”
In Appendix I, ivory sales are banned. When this is relaxed occasionally to allow for trade, the system is still strongly controlled.
Zimbabwe’s ivory is thus classified. No sales have been made outside the CITES’ Appendix I guidance, as a measure of respect and honour to global conventions that aim to tame poaching. The result has been a burgeoning stockpile of decaying elephant tusks at the Parks and Wildlife Authority, notwithstanding existing strong demand for legal ivory.
In light of this, where Zimbabwe is in the right, the basis for de-campaigning the country’s sale of live animals to interested countries from some local conservationists led by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force is clearly emotional, frivolous, unwarranted and unwanted.
God is faithful.