Zimbabwe: Wildlife Sales – Sounds Good, but Is It?


By Jeffrey Gogo, The Herald

Date Published

To curb the crippling effects of the current drought on wildlife, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) has laid out plans to sell-off some of the animals, from elephant to lion, zebra and impala. Sounds like a good plan, but there is one problem – climate change.

Scientific consensus points toward an increase in the frequency and extremity of climate-linked events like drought and floods now and in the future. Now, with these dreadful projections in mind we ask: for how much longer will the wildlife regulator continue to turn to short-term de-stocking actions whenever a drought, or any other extreme event, occurs?

Worried that the drought — Zimbabwe’s worst in 25 years — will decimate wildlife herds, the ZimParks announced earlier this month it will sell several animals to capable local private game managers at a price that no-one knows.

The poorly-funded Authority, which manages several wildlife reserves and recreational parks countrywide, including the 14 600 square-kilometre Hwange National Park — home to 40 000 elephants, 100 other mammals and 400 bird species — says the drought has made conservation work difficult, as water sources dry up and food becomes scarce.

It is hoping cash-rich private game owners will be better positioned to offer the wildlife a chance at survival at a time of drought — and beyond — and that sale proceeds will help boost conservation of the unsold herds. But prospective owners must prove their ability to manage and keep the animals safe before any sale can be concluded. It is crucial to understand that this is a local auction. No animal is actually leaving Zimbabwe’s shores — hopefully — because the call for expression of interest in the planned sale was restricted only to ” . . . members of the public . . . “, the Zimbabwean public.

Now, Zimbabwe’s wildlife management strategies are generally up there at the top in Africa, and anywhere else around the world really, but the latest plan seems rushed, unsustainable, a mere plan to leverage animals for short-term financial benefit. This is not the first time that a drought has severely depleted pastures and water resources, leaving wild animals on the brink. In previous instances, one of the regulator’s strategies has been to offload its excess wildlife stocks to worthy private buyers.

Whereas such a plan may have worked in the past, it cannot be relied upon to deliver long-term sustainable wildlife management at a time of climate change. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), climate change is causing habitats to shrink, as competition for water escalates conflict between humans and animals.

Further, climate risks aren’t the only threat to wildlife and their habitat. The activities of humans living in areas bordering wildlife sanctuaries or national parks and their livestock are an additional concern.

As habitats fragment, more and more wild animals are coming into direct confrontation with humans not only over water and grazing space, but also over the destructive footprint of wild animals on crops, settlements and livestock. Also, poaching has become widespread while human deaths from attacks by wild animals are on the rise.

There are numerous ways that could help endangered animals like the African elephant – a high value animal that could fetch between $40 000 and $60 000 each — adapt, the WWF says, but disposals are not one of them.

“Priorities for climate-informed African elephant conservation should include securing fresh water; maintaining and increasing suitable, connected habitat; and increasing the monitoring for disease and other causes of mortality,” said the WWF in a 2015 study.

Although the elephant was more suited to adapt, the report placed freshwater availability — ahead of poaching or food scarcity — as the biggest threat to the future of elephants under rapidly changing climates.

” . . . the biggest concern for elephants is their need for large amounts of fresh water, and the influence this has on their daily activities, reproduction and migration,” it said.

The ZimParks does not only recognise the threat posed by increased water scarcity, but by experience it understands the extent of devastation from water shortages on wild animals.

It said in a statement earlier this May that it would sink a couple of wells across key national parks to ease the deficit, without mentioning the actual number of wells to be drilled nor the associated costs for similar work.

And while the ZimParks statement states several animal species are up for sale, it seems plausible that the main target is the elephant given its high value potential; the historic problematic surplus herd as well as the animal’s steep demand for water — some 200 or so litres per animal per day.

Clearly, the authority is well aware of what actually needs to be done to combat drought effects on wildlife for the long-term, and it is not liquidation — which is only but a temporary plan. Live animal sales do not guarantee safety in the final relocation destination.

There is need for a strong forward-looking strategy that takes into account the impact of climate change on biodiversity, wildlife, food and water supply, and how this will influence current and future actions in wildlife conservation.

Zimbabwe requires a system that guarantees that the bulk of wildlife remains under the Government eye forever — and thus guaranteeing a continuous flow of wildlife tourism returns into public coffers, and that a national resource like wild animals do not overwhelmingly become a private resource. Any action that discounts the risks of climate change on wildlife dynamics will work only but for a while, if at all.

Wildlife tourism rakes in about $300 million in earnings annually, according to estimates, with communities earning over $2 million each year from a project called Campfire, which allows them to retain a certain portion of money from hunting that occurs in their localities.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its most severe drought in decades. More than 4 million people are facing hunger and tens of thousands of livestock and wildlife have succumbed to the drought. Authorities have appealed to donors for $1,6 billion in aid to help communities cope.

God is faithful.