The Sunday Mail
Langton Nyakwenda recently in KASANE, Botswana
AS Heads of States from Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe converged in Kasane, Botswana to find a solution to the ever increasing elephant population, a few kilometres from the conference venue, a family buried a relative who had been trampled by a jumbo.
About 80km away, in Kataba village near Kachikau, a former teacher who is now into cattle farming counted losses after elephants destroyed his water pumping machine worth over US$4 000.
“The only idea which I think will work is to minimise the number of these elephants,” lamented this Kataba villager.
“Recently, a man was killed in this village. In fact, we have recorded almost 10 deaths in the past few years and it is sad,”
Elephant population management is an issue that Southern Africa, which is home to 61 percent of the world’s jumbo, is grappling with.
It is estimated that the Kavango-Zambezi region, — Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe — has over 250 000 jumbos or 75 percent of the elephant population in Southern Africa.
Zimbabwe’s elephant herd stands at over 84 000 with wildlife authorities saying the country’s national parks have a carrying capacity of 50 000.
The state of affairs has led to an increased number of human and wildlife conflicts.
Over 200 lives have been lost in Zimbabwe in the last five years due to human wildlife conflicts, and of those deaths, 40 percent are a result of elephants.
It is further estimated that more than 7 000 hectares of crop are destroyed annually by elephants.
In the midst of these challenges, the international community, mainly Europe and the Americas, are adamant elephants should not be culled, sold or traded.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has also banned the sale of elephants or its products, leaving Southern Africa, the world’s largest elephant reserve in a catch 22 situation.
It was against this background that Heads of States from four countries converged in Botswana for the Elephant Summit, which they described as a ‘masterstroke’.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Botswana leader Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, Namibian and Zambian leaders Hage Geingob and Edgar Lungu respectively came into the same room to discuss this contentious issue of increasing animal population in a historical meeting.
The purpose was to find a common ground amongst the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Areas (KAZA TFCAs) nations on the way forward with regards elephant population management.
It also sought to establish ways in which communities living with elephants benefit from the animals, which, ironically, are wreaking havoc and threatening their livelihood. The major take home from this ground-breaking summit was that Southern Africa should speak with one voice when it comes to elephant population management, especially at international forums such as the next CITES gathering set for Colombo in Sri Lanka in October.
They want Southern Africa to sell jumbos.
The leaders agreed that Southern Africa should not be bullied by the international community on issues pertaining to elephant management.
President Mnangagwa reiterated Zimbabwe’s commitment to sustainable wildlife management and urged the international community to recognise the region’s conservation successes.
“Our successes in conservation is commendable and must be duly recognised, not criticised. It is equally imperative that the global community considers the voices and concerns of countries like ourselves that are successful in conserving these (elephants) species,” said President Mnangagwa.
“Poverty eradication, economic empowerment and improvement in the quality of the lives of our communities can only be enhanced if we are allowed to trade and benefit from our God-given natural elements,” said the President.
Namibia President and SADC chairman Mr Geingob said Southern Africa should not be bullied by European countries “who have destroyed their own species” and yet are imposing restrictions on the sale of elephants and their products like ivory.
“I listened to all these experts who were lecturing us here, I wanted to ask where they are coming from, if they are from Europe, UK, France and so on, I wanted to ask how many elephants they still have in their countries.
“How do you destroy all your species and then come and lecture us, we have a problem of population because we manage our resources properly.
“Our success is now our problem, they (Europeans) should be humble and come and ask how we have managed our wildlife,” thundered the Namibian President.
Speaking at the same platform, Botswana President Dr Masisi, whose country holds the chairmanship of the KAZA TFCAs, said wildlife management costs had come at the expense of human development.
“The huge expanses of land reserved for wildlife and its associated management costs have come at the expense of human development which includes agriculture, health provision, education, water provision and other infrastructure.
“We believe in a people centred approach to pursuing sustainable and economically inclusive solutions in the management of our wildlife,” said Dr. Masisi.
The Kasane Elephant Summit was also attended by Environment ministers from KAZA countries who also spoke with one voice on the issue of jumbo population management.
“From the statistics, collectively as KAZA we have 75 percent of the elephants in Southern Africa and over 60 per cent of the world’s population, so who else can tell us how to nurture or conserve the elephants and other animals but ourselves, we have to teach the world,” said Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Prisca Mupfumira.
Botswana Minister of Environment, Natural Resource Conservation and Tourism who is also the chairman of KAZA, Mr Kitso Mokaila blasted some international media for twisting the elephant agenda.
“As expected, there has been a bad wave, fuelled by the media, not ours, but those from the West. We should continue to speak with one voice when it comes to our regional elephants.
“Together we stand, but divided we fall. It is my conviction that, as Southern Africa range states, we have an obligation to resolutely and collectively work together to find lasting solutions to the issue of our elephants,” said Mr Mokaila.