The Sunday Mail
Over the years, various species specialist groups affiliated to the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) have recognised safari hunting as a primary conservation tool, which is beneficial not only to wildlife but to communities that share borders with wild animals.
Hunting is, therefore, important to communities that have lost their livelihoods because of the country’s increasing wildlife population.
Animals continue to invade human settlements and have caused untold suffering to rural communities.
For years, proceeds from hunting have ensured education, up to tertiary level, for thousands of vulnerable children across the country. These beneficiaries are now sharing their skills with the world.
The money has built infrastructure and improved livelihoods of rural communities.
It is important to note that most huntable species are not threatened with extinction or endangered but their population is thriving across the country and the wider Southern Africa.
More importantly, by management design, safari hunting secures the most viable populations of the iconic species.
There is no evidence that the animal species the Americans are threatening to ban in their proposed Bill have declined or are disappearing due to trophy hunting.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, there are robust management systems which make safari hunting an essential component in the development of the continent and protection of animals.
Zimbabwe is a typical example of a country with robust, science-based management systems such as the adoption and use of a comprehensive quota setting system and database.
Judging by the number of animals in the country, these mechanisms are working.
Controlled hunting is only permitted in safari areas, not in protected areas.
In both protected areas and on private properties, the proponent has to apply to the director-general showing intentions to venture into hunting.
A team of experienced terrestrial ecologists conduct ecological feasibility assessments determining various parameters such as property tenure rights, property size, security of species, zoonotic burdens, water and feed availability, population numbers and compositions, proponent’s proposed quota and community engagement among other parameters.
Quota setting workshops are held in all provinces in the country every year and all existing, and prospective hunters present their previous hunting off-takes and vital information. This is done in preparation of quota allocation for the forthcoming year.
Ecologists then meticulously compute sustainable quotas for each property.
Even for trophy exporters, the country has a robust regulatory framework for management and exportation of trophies.
The database is housed at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe but accessible to trained and accredited parks officers.
The country has a strict adherence to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
A network of law enforcement agencies ensures trade is appropriately regulated nationally by the authority, internationally by CITES and by importing countries including the US as regulated by that country’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
There are multiple factors which may contribute to species’ decline. These include habitat loss or destruction, climate change and poaching.
In Zimbabwe, habitat loss is becoming a major threat to survival of animals, not hunting.
There is scientific evidence that Kenya lost 70 percent of its wildlife since it suspended safari hunting as the animals became valueless to the rural communities, who are the first line of defence.
According to other wildlife experts, Kenya’s wildlife policy is a widely recognised failure and its hunting suspension in 1977 contributed to a catastrophic decline in wildlife species.
On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that Zimbabwe’s wildlife populations of giraffe, zebra, large carnivores (including lion, leopard and hyena) are healthy and on the increase.
In terms of carnivore hunting, there is strict adherence to the hunting of aged weaker animals, which would unavoidably be lost by lack of survival skills in the wilderness.
For every hunted specie, paperwork is completed and pictures of the trophy submitted to our scientific services unit for analysis in collaboration with external carnivore experts.
If any under-aged hunt occurs, the safari operator is severely punished.
Needless to mention that wildlife trade and hunting, in particular, is carefully regulated in Zimbabwe and other countries.
There is co-ordinated and harmonised implementation of conservation measures under various regional initiatives, including Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) within SADC.
The Kavango Zambezi TFCA initiative, commonly known as KAZA TFCA, a mega landscape incorporating five countries (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Zambia), is one such example.
But this proposed banning of trophies in the US ignores all the aforementioned conservation measures and attendant benefits.
Conversely, the ban will impact CAMPFIRE, Zimbabwe’s community-based conservation programme that supports millions of people. Hunting provides the primary source of revenues in the most successful CAMPFIRE areas and provided over US$2 million annually in the period 2011 to 2016 and thousands of jobs were created.
From the revenue realised under CAMPFIRE, there are household cash dividends shared monthly and quarterly in some areas.
In most cases, infrastructure developments in many CAMPFIRE communities are enabled by proceeds from hunting.
Under such circumstances, these revenues improve community livelihoods by also supplementing dietary requirements through offering meat handouts from hunts, initiating the construction of dams and setting up of irrigation schemes among other community development initiatives.
Hunting in communities is a vehicle that is used to execute Problem Animal Control as a way to reduce the impact of human-wildlife conflict.
In many cases, there is need to adopt lethal ways of eliminating problem animals, particularly those that would have tasted human blood, attacked livestock and destroyed property.
Often-times safari operators and/or professional hunters are engaged to hunt down the problem animals.
According to the Social Exchange Theory (SET), one can conserve for something he/she gets to benefit from. This is true in Zimbabwe’s case.
If the country is to succeed in fighting poaching, there is need to have overwhelming buy-in from front-line communities, particularly those adjacent and around protected areas.
If the benefits of regulated hunting and legal wildlife trade are reduced by an import ban in the US, the incentives and tolerance of local communities, who remain key players in the conservation system, will be reduced.
This will result in habitat loss, retaliatory killings and a species decline. Communities have capacity to be hubs for commercial poaching syndicates.
They can even engage in subsistence poaching of plains game for meat.
Admittedly, elephants and other key species are endangered in other parts of Africa, but that is not the case in Zimbabwe or Southern Africa.
Instead of encouraging the good conservation work that is done by ZimParks under the visionary leadership of Mr Fulton Mangwanya, some have been poo-pooing the sterling job the authority has been doing despite limited resources.
The authority is transparent and open, anyone including animal rights activists shouting from air conditioned offices in Europe and the US are invited to have a tour or audit the country’s wildlife sector including the ivory stockpile vaults and see things for themselves rather than relying on faceless characters on social media, who have never seen an elephant.
Tinashe Farawo is ZimParks spokesperson. Feedback: [email protected]