The Sunday Mail
THE United States of America has proposed a law, Bill SB1175 Animals: prohibitions on importation and possession of wild animals: animal markets.
The Bill’s proposals are not based on strong foundations of empirical evidence and science but emotions mainly advocated by animal rights activists.
Needless to mention that hunting in Zimbabwe generates revenue for protection and conservation of wildlife resources, and draws community participation in the fight against poaching through such initiatives as the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE).
Hunting benefits at least one million households countrywide through employment creation, construction of roads, clinics and schools.
It is important to note that hunting also helps in the well-co-ordinated faunal species population control method, a consumptive form of tourism with a chain of goods and services twinned together.
It is also a method of managing Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC).
Hunting is a part of Zimbabwean cultural beliefs dating back thousands of years. These indigenous traditional knowledge systems of conservation played a crucial role in the preservation of flora and fauna.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) through the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Act (Chapter 20:14) of 1975 is mandated to protect, preserve and conserve the country’s flora and fauna, both terrestrial and aquatic under gazetted national parks, safari areas, sanctuaries, recreational areas, botanic gardens and reserves.
This includes flora and fauna on private and communal properties.
ZimParks director-general Mr Fulton Mangwanya and his team are mandated to ensure the organisation funds and fends for its day-to-day operations.
This is so because ZimParks was weaned from the national fiscus a couple of years ago.
Government has other competing needs such as education and health.
Some of the non-profit making operations manifest in the Conservation of Wildlife Resources and Protection of Wildlife Resources, which are enshrined in the authority’s five-year strategic plan (2019-2023).
In this regard even though the organisation has revenue from leases, rentals, tourism receipts (both local and international), service provision and conservation partners, the most significant revenue line for financing resource protection and conservation comes from hunting.
It is mostly international hunts that sustain the authority. But this year’s hunting season is a write-off.
The sailing through and subsequent adoption of this proposed Bill into an Act is a nightmare for the country’s conservation efforts.
The authority needs money for vehicle purchase, maintenance, fuel for ranger deployments, patrol rations, swift reaction to HWCs, patrol gear (tents, sleeping bags, uniforms, boots, ammunition, chest webbings, water bottles), daily ranger patrol allowances, salaries, conducting community awareness campaigns, research and monitoring activities, road/fireguard maintenance, firefighting, tick and disease surveillance, routine aerial surveys, alien invasive species control and administrative costs, among other needs.
This year alone, the authority received at least 1 000 distress calls from communities and only managed to respond to slightly more than 50 percent due to lack of resources.
Consequently, 45 people lost their lives and dozens were injured.
Hunting in Zimbabwe is one of the ways of suppressing rocketing animal populations.
The hunting is managed professionally by the wildlife management authority.
The growing animal population in the country is not an accident, it is a result of good management practices and it is important that such good work is supported not only for the benefit of the country but for the benefit of the entire global family.
Trade in live species regionally and internationally has been a viable option to control animal numbers but has now been thwarted by other global Western countries.
Culling, though still legal, has been practically banned. It was last conducted in 1988 as a way to reduce animal populations, mainly elephants.
However, local capture and translocation is another extremely expensive exercise. This is a rare practice often carried out with assistance from conservation partners.
In 2018, a herd of 100 elephants was translocated from the South-East Lowveld (Save Valley, Masvingo) to Rifa in Hurungwe (Mashonaland Central).
Some more elephants and plains game are yet to be translocated from Save Valley Conservancy to Mid Zambezi Valley and Mavuradonha.
Ecological feasibility assessments are underway to give scientific data on the merits and demerits of the project.
Wildlife activists pushing for this Bill lobbied against culling in the late 1980s, constrained chances in the trade in live animals, and now the trade in and importation of wildlife trophies into the US.
But it is clear that the Bill is based on anecdotal, baseless and misleading information.
Without doubt, Zimbabwe has a healthy population of elephants, lions, leopards, black and white rhinos, giraffes, hyenas, pangolins and baboons among other terrestrial and aquatic species.
Unfortunately, some of these species mentioned in SB1175 have either increasing or stable populations in the country and to a greater extent incomparable to most countries in the region and beyond.
Due to the ever-increasing populations of these animals, human-wildlife conflict cases have also been on the rise in Zimbabwe.
It is important to note that the proposed Bill will not solve any of the challenges that it seeks to address but instead will increase hostilities between vulnerable rural and some urban communities, and the animals.
Legal trade in live species and related specimens is not a major threat to fauna as compared to other more important factors such as the ever-increasing populations of wildlife, global warming and climate change, veld fires, human settlement encroachment and invasion of protected areas and habitat loss.
In fact, animals are now a danger unto themselves.
In 2019 alone, 200 elephants and dozens of other wildlife species succumbed to climate change and loss of habitat induced starvation mainly in Hwange National Park and Mana Pools National Park.
Many thanks to some conservation partners who chipped in with supplementary feed and provision of water for the animals.
However, from an ecological perspective, such drought occurrences and other catastrophes are natural population positive check mechanisms to bring any populations to ecologically sustainable levels.
So these trade bans are unnecessary, the rhino horn trade has been banned for more than 40 years yet its illegal trade has not stopped.
Instead, it has flourished.
It is downright arrogant for people in air-conditioned offices in Europe and the US to prescribe how we are going to look after our animals when there is overwhelming evidence that wild animals in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa as a whole, are in good hands judging by the rising populations of these animals.
There are over 84 000 elephants on Zimbabwe’s four elephant range regions namely North West Matabeleland, Sebungwe, Mid Zambezi Valley and South East Lowveld.
For the Hwange National Park landscape and surroundings, there are more than 45 000 elephants against an ecological carrying capacity of around 15 000.
With that environmental time bomb, imagine the escalating pressure of the keystone species on the geo-landscape and stress exerted on forage, water or habitat.
It is not only misleading but a blatant lie that legal hunting is contributing to a significant decline in wildlife, there is no evidence to that effect, in fact, hunting has resulted in the protection of wildlife in Zimbabwe and the region.
Over the years, ZimParks under the able leadership of Mr Mangwanya carried out many activities to safeguard wildlife. Ironically, the US has acknowledged these even though its law makers forge ahead with this Bill.
“Zimbabwe has carried out several actions at a national level and in collaboration with regional, local communities and interested partners on the ground that together demonstrate a clear interest in and concrete efforts towards establishing a better management regime and providing greater support for conservation efforts to enable elephant sport hunting that provides a clear benefit to the survival of African elephants in Zimbabwe,” reads part of the United States Fisheries statement in part.
Tinashe Farawo is ZimParks spokesperson. Feedback: [email protected]