Reports that Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is sitting on 44 tonnes of ivory worth US$10 million, which it cannot sell are disturbing. Once again we have a situation where an international body, in this case the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), is working against the interests of Zimbabwe. We have a situation where Zimbabwe is being stopped from trading in its wildlife products to raise money to sustainably manage the wildlife for posterity. For years now Zimbabwe has been lobbying, campaigning and begging that its fellow members in Cites support its bid to trade in ivory in a controlled and accountable manner. Zimbabwe’s wildlife management programme is excellent despite operating with limited resources. We have kept our wildlife populations high, including the endangered species like the rhino. The war against poachers has been sustained for the past three decades of our independence.
But our elephant population is clearly too high and is a danger to the environment. It is estimated that the population is over 100 000 against a holding capacity that is half of that. The only way to protect the environment and future elephant populations, as well as other wildlife, is to periodically cull the elephants and keep the population at manageable levels.
Yet we have countries that do not have elephant populations of their own seeking to stop Zimbabwe from economically benefiting from its wildlife. The US$10 million that could be realised from selling the ivory stockpiled by the Parks authorities could go a long way in ensuring that the infrastructure and equipment in our national parks is maintained at levels that produce efficiency in wildlife management and conservation programmes. Apart from Kenya, which has genuine concerns about allowing trade in ivory given that it also has high elephant populations which could be poached, the other countries don’t stand to realise much economic value from their low elephant populations. But again Kenya gets a lot of donor funding to keep its wildlife programmes running. It is being rewarded for supporting the Western view of absolute protection instead of sustainable and profitable use. Zimbabwe is under economic sanctions, which means less money will find its way into wildlife preservation from the national budget. If the same forces that oppose its desire to trade in ivory are not putting money into wildlifthen they are working towards the collapse of our wildlife programmes.
An example cited by Parks director-general Vitalis Chadenga is that of the Great Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park, where other countries are getting assistance and Zimbabwe is being left out. If Zimbabwe was allowed to off-load at least 10 tonnes a year, it would not have the kind of stockpile it now has. But it last had a Cites-approved sale in 2008 when only five tonnes where sold to China and Japan.
The point is that Zimbabwe will not stop culling elephants because this is a necessary process in managing its wildlife environment. So why not allow it to raise money from wildlife products to maintain the same environment. What is unfortunate is that the 175-member Cites has been hijacked by Western protectionist and animal welfare groups, who could not conserve wildlife in their own countries but now want to superintend over ours. Zimbabwe has proved through the Campfire programme that if communities are allowed to derive economic benefits from wildlife they will preserve it.
Zimbabwe: Ivory Stockpile – Cites Should Let us Hold Controlled Sales, AllAfrica.com, Oct. 13, 2011