The Sunday Mail
IN 1989, elephants in African countries were listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix I, effectively banning trade in elephants as they were considered to be nearing extinction.
In 1987, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe were transferred to the CITES Appendix II, which legalised elephant trade in these countries, albeit under stringent prerequisites.
South Africa’s elephants were subsequently transferred to the CITES Appendix II at the turn of the millennium.
As a result of these trade restrictions, most African countries, especially those in Southern Africa, have not benefited adequately from trading their rich wildlife resources.
This has, in turn, prompted poverty and suffering in communities sharing borders with wildlife protected areas.
To illustrate this point, in Zimbabwe, nearly 500 people were killed in incidents of human-wildlife conflict over the last five years.
Hundreds more were injured, while thousands of hectares of agricultural land was destroyed.
People living in these communities have been impoverished owing to pervasive attacks by wildlife on their domestic livestock.
The elephant population in SADC has shown signs of increase or mild and non-significant decline over the last 20 years.
The region already has the highest population of these large mammals in Africa at 256 000, accounting for 61,6 percent of elephants on the continent.
A quarter of a million elephants are managed in the world’s largest trans-frontier conservation area, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA), which is about 520 000 km2 in size; nearly the size of France.
The conservation area covers five countries: Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Managing this large population of animals is extremely expensive and beyond the reach of most African countries.
This is why restrictions on trading wildlife resources in the region should be reconsidered.
Conservation aid from donor countries and organisations has proved inadequate for solving our problems with management and conservation of wildlife.
Most countries in the region are sitting on billions of dollars’ worth of ivory, which has been harvested over the years.
But trade restrictions imposed on these countries mean that they cannot trade these wildlife products.
These trade restrictions are no longer relevant and inappropriate, hence the calls for lifting the restrictions on trade.
Studies have shown that trade in wildlife and wildlife products alone and not aid from donor countries will help countries like Zimbabwe and her African peers to save our most treasured asset — wildlife.
In 1998, the four elephant range states conducted a once-off legal sale of more than 100 000kg of raw ivory to approved traders in Asia and this generated the much-needed financial resources for wildlife management and conservation.
For years, tourism receipts have primarily provided funding for wildlife management.
Now with Zimbabwe and much of the world under Covid-19-induced lockdowns, receipts from tourism continue to tumble.
As the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, we have always argued that tourism receipts cannot be a sustainable mechanism for raising funding for wildlife management and conservation.
The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has vindicated us.
How are we going to fund the deployment of rangers for anti-poaching patrols, law enforcement and general wildlife management when the main source of our revenue is under severe strain from the coronavirus?
Illustratively, Zimbabwe is sitting on ivory worth more than half a billion United States Dollars.
If sold, this ivory can generate resources which can be invested into conservation.
Critically, donor countries have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and this will translate to less resources being directed towards wildlife management, which will be considered secondary in the face of a lethal pandemic.
This is why the need to push for the removal of restrictions on trade should take centre stage.
In Zimbabwe, for example, the Authority is not funded by central Government owing to competing funding needs.
The Covid-19 pandemic will only make the situation worse.
This is why we are calling for the removal of restrictions on trade in wildlife products so that we raise resources to fund conservation and wildlife management.
There is no evidence suggesting that banning wildlife trade results in a reduction in poaching.
Rhino horn trade has been prohibited for more than 40 years, but its illegal trade remains lucrative.
Nearly all of the country’s ivory stockpile is from elephants that die naturally and those killed for management purposes, including when solving incidents of human-wildlife conflict.
This ivory is collected and registered to ensure traceability of every piece.
It is then secured in vaults, whose records are monitored and in our case through a computerised system.
The last culling exercise in Zimbabwe was conducted in 1988.
This ivory, which is secured through routine wildlife management and conservation, should be disposed through legal trade to approved markets.
Resources therefrom will be directed towards development of elephant management plans, anti-poaching, supporting community-based initiatives for the benefit of rural communities and general wildlife management.
This is why we are arguing that trade not aid is the solution to ensuring the security of our wildlife.
Securing the future of animals ultimately depends on the aspirations, attitudes and needs of the people who share borders with these animals.
Therefore if revenue raised through trade of wildlife products is directed towards these communities through construction of relevant social infrastructure, their attitudes towards wildlife will change.
Tinashe Farawo is spokesperson of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. He can be contacted on [email protected]