The Sunday Mail
Harmony Agere and Panashe Mabeza
Climate change and a burgeoning wildlife population are unique challenges confronting the Southern African region.
Human-wildlife conflict, particularly in Zimbabwe, is now reaching a tipping point.
Saddled with a colossal population of 84 000 elephants against a carrying capacity of around 56 000, the country is battling daily incidences of human-wildlife conflict.
It is poor communities who have had to bear the brunt.
“People can no longer move freely because they fear for their lives,” says Nandipa Mabo, a resident of Kariba town, where a man was recently trampled to death by an elephant on his way from work.
“Our livelihoods are also greatly threatened because of the mass destruction caused to our crops, livestock and homes by the animals,” he said.
The problem is not peculiar to Zimbabwe, but it extends to much of the Southern African region, which has been blighted by adverse weather conditions in the drought-plagued 2018-2019 season.
Wildlife is increasingly moving from parched conservation areas to neighbouring communities.
Zimbabwe and its neighbours Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia are carrying the burden that comes with 216 000 jumbos freely migrating within the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), which is nestled in the heart of Southern Africa.
Faced with growing animal populations and limited resources to protect them — partly because of global restrictions in trading in wildlife and wildlife products — Southern African countries made a spirited pitch for the trading restrictions to be relaxed at recently held Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
Sadc put up a united front, demanding not only to clear their ivory stockpiles, but also to be allowed to export their elephants.
Namibia requested CITES to downlist its white rhino from Appendix 1, which includes species threatened with extinction and cannot be traded, to Appendix 2, which includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction and can be traded.
However, not only did CITES reject the proposals, it imposed a near-total ban on sending African elephants from the wild to zoos. But the US and the European Union also joined Sadc in voting against the move.
Overall, 87 voted in favour of the motion, while 29 voted against.
Twenty members abstained.
To remain or to leave
CITES’ decision drew anger, particularly from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana, with the countries threatening to pull out from the grouping, which some believe is now being steered by non-governmental organisations and groups that are unfamiliar to peculiar challenges facing the region.
activism won the day
Acting Minister of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu said activism won the day at CITES.
“As Sadc, there were a number of requests that we made that were voted down.
“All we wanted CITES to do was to consider the plight of rural communities affected by human-wildlife conflict, especially with elephants.
“We also wanted a review of the current CITES setup, where decisions are made through voting rather than through science. So the decisions are democratically right but scientifically wrong.
“We are facing a lot of activism and NGO work, which sadly has ignored the affected communities.”
Other regional countries also agree
Namibian Minister of Environment and Tourism Pohamba Shifeta accused some interest groups of politicising the matter.
“Our population is second largest population of white rhinos in the world, but there are countries who do not hold views which are based on science; instead of applying science, they are politicising the whole matter,” he said.
“We will reconsider our stay in CITES if that is the case. We are going to have a meeting and we are going to make statements.”
Minister Shifeta said some countries were trying to make determinations about the species they do not even have.
Botswana Minister of Environment Onkokame Kitso Mokaila described CITES’ decision as shocking.
“A great disappointment and shocking outcome, no link to reality on the ground where we are,” he said.
“We have climate change issues, we have an increasing wildlife population, we have an increasing human population, we have shrinking fertile land or productive land, we have to produce food, we have shortage of water.
“So it’ is not just about elephants or rhino it is about talking about economies in Southern Africa.Minister Mokaila said CITES was no longer speaking to issues affecting people, adding that an alternative body might have to be formed.
“Our communities are dependent on these species, our communities forgo so much, they do not plough, they do not rear cattle or goats or sheep, or whatever, because wildlife destroys our lives, they get killed, so l am absolutely gutted by CITES,” he said.
“I think we should convene a meeting as soon as possible to look at all this and make recommendations to our leaders about creating something else.”
President Mnangagwa believes a viable alternative arrangement can be made with countries such as Japan and China to resume trade.