Zimbabwe: Time Up for Poachers


By Stephen Mpofu, The Herald

Date Published
Is dawn about to break on the African elephant to romp and flaunt that precious ivory in the wild with no intruders clutching high-powered rifles and stalking the jumbos relentlessly?Recent news from Asia — the lucrative market place for poached ivory — must have sent waves of joy across the African continent so rich in wildlife but dogged by poachers threatening to wipe out game.

Hong Kong reportedly incinerated part of its stocks of ivory, while Japanese companies said they would stop selling elephant products altogether.

A Government source said the reported moves were “most welcome”, but indicated that according to CITES, elephant culling to curb over-population and environmental degradation with proceeds from sales benefiting populations that cohabit with elephants was necessary and would have to continue to stabilise elephant populations.

What this implies is that consignments of ivory from culled animals would have to be certified as such in order for authorised sales to take place in designated international markets, while strict surveillance will be necessary to ensure that poached elephant tusks are not infiltrated into the official market.

Zimbabwe is one of several African countries where poachers have caused untold havoc on elephant populations for their ivory which is then spirited across porous borders and away to waiting dealers who ask no questions about the source of the contraband.

The stories from Asia suggest that much of the ivory finding itself on those markets is from poached elephant tusks and sold to raise funding for terrorist groups that are increasingly destabilising countries as the insurgents seek to overthrow legitimate governments.

Some observers suggest that should sales of ivory products be drastically wilted down or stopped altogether in the huge Asian market, such insurgent groups will be put out of business as they will be left with diminished financial resources to buy weapons with which they kill and maim their victims to the extent of making some countries virtually ungovernable.

Closer to home, one might ask where Renamo bandits in Mozambique, for instance, get money to stay active.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, which continues to give the Ugandan government sleepless nights, also stands out as a case study, as do the many rebel groups marauding in the DRC and in Sudan’s Darfur region.

With imperialists seeking to maintain a political and economic stranglehold on Africa, more terrorist groups are likely to emerge with part of their funding coming from pillaging resources that include wildlife.

While CITES will obviously continue to allow governments to reduce elephant populations through culling, this pen humbly believes that strict monitoring regimes are become imperative in countries teeming with elephants to ensure that poached ivory does not get mixed up with ivory lawfully put on the market.

Surveillance will have to be directed to remote air strips in countries with large herds of elephant as private aircraft are central to the entire poaching and smuggling network globally.

Strict security checks should be carried out on bulky or suspicious air cargo, and all goods must be certified as having come from legitimate sources before they are allowed to leave or enter ports.

Populations that live near wildlife should be conscientised to realise that they lay a claim to common ownership of elephants among other animals and that they have a very important role to play in protecting their resources. A good example of this is the CAMPFIRE programme in Zimbabwe.

What this means in practice is that the villagers must jealously protect game by policing their environment and reporting and — wherever it is safe to do so — apprehending suspected poachers and handing them over to the police.

The courts, too, must impose harsh sanctions which will make potential poachers of wildlife think of alternative, innocent sources of income to support their families and lifestyles.

Above all, people should realise that a concentration of wildlife in any one part of the country does not mean regional or provincial ownership of the animal resources.

On the contrary, the wildlife belongs to the entire country and should be used to benefit the nation as a whole — and this can only happen with governments overseeing the equitable distribution of benefits derived from that resource.

The writer is the former editor of Chronicle and the Sunday Mail.