Tinashe Farawo Correspondent
Zimbabwe subscribes to the principle of sustainable utilisation, not only of wildlife, but also of all its natural resources.
Sustainable utilisation tries to balance conservation benefits with the needs and expectations of the people who live with wildlife in rural communities.
This approach recognises that the future survival of wildlife depends on its relationship with local communities and they must derive some benefit from wildlife. We believe that the animals must pay for their upkeep and communities must benefit through infrastructure development, construction of roads, schools, clinics and creation of employment.
Most activists, who make noise on social media and from some air-conditioned offices, are not helping with resources to manage the growing wildlife population. In fact, there are some criminals and opportunists who raise funds in the name of wild animals in Zimbabwe and not even a cent finds its way to the communities where the animals are or to the national park for the conservation of our wildlife.
Currently, the authority is battling with the severe shortage of water in some of the major parks such as Hwange and Mana Pools due to climate change-induced drought and very few are coming to the party to provide the precious liquid or have an idea how much it is costing the authority to provide water and security for the animals, especially the elephants they claim to love so much.
Hwange National Park is run on 100 percent ground water that needs to be extracted for the wildlife. There is a cost associated with the extraction of water and maintenance of the equipment while desperately waiting for the rains so that the animals survive and all this needs resources, hence the need to ensure that the animals must pay for their upkeep through live sales.
There is no doubt that the country has a rich and successful history of wildlife conservation, which dates back to pre-colonial times. A blend of tradition and modern methods of conservation has made Zimbabwe a respected world leader in wildlife conservation.
To date, wildlife forms the cornerstone of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry, with vast opportunities to view animals in their natural habitats in gazetted protected conservation areas, communal areas under the Communal Areas Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) and on private lands.
Through CAMPFIRE, at least 800 000 families are benefiting from wildlife in some parts of the country where the animals are.
The families benefit through community tourism activities like the Sidinda project in Hwange and many other projects where locals are employed; schools, clinics and roads are also constructed.
Elephant populations have continued to increase in the country, particularly in the Hwange-Matetsi area and south-eastern part of the country.
Results from the last aerial survey conducted over time shows that there is local over-abundance of some populations like in the Hwange-Matetsi Complex where the estimated elephant population is 53 949, which is above the ecological carrying capacity.
The authority and World Environment Zimbabwe are conducting an annual game count in Hwange, Mana and Gonarezhou parks and this is good cooperation for the good of wildlife.
It’s not a secret that the authority does not receive funding from central Government and is probably the only wildlife management authority in the world which does not receive such funding.
As an authority, we believe that communities are the first line of defence when it comes to poaching, hence the need to ensure that they benefit. Needless to say, that the biggest threat to the survival of wild animals in the country is loss of habitat and this has resulted in habitat degradation and affected biodiversity.
This is creating serious ecological, financial and socio-economic challenges to the authority. For instance, local overpopulation of elephants has resulted in competition between the elephants and other species in the parks, especially for browse and water during the current dry season.
On the other hand, elephants come into direct conflict with inhabitants of adjacent rural local communities as they destroy vegetation, crops, and infrastructure and even kill people under various circumstances.
This year alone, at least 20 lives have been lost in human-wildlife conflict and 40 percent of these conflicts involve humans and elephants, therefore these problems are real.
To a family in Bocha which has lost its father after being killed by an elephant, the human- wildlife conflicts problems are real.
To the woman in Mbire who lost her two-year-old son to a pack of hyenas, the problems are real and to many other victims of human wildlife conflict who have permanent disabilities, the problems are also real.
There is no need to intellectualise or to philosophise about the challenges communities are facing or to spent days in air-conditioned hotels talking about elephants, yet people are suffering and habitat is being lost.
In view of these problems, Zimbabwe is currently capturing and translocating live animals to approved appropriate and acceptable destinations within and outside the country in terms of laid-down national and international procedures as well as terms and conditions.
Upon receipt of an application to import animals from Zimbabwe, our CITES Scientific and Management Authority must confirm the availability of the species and numbers required and that such an export will not have negative detrimental impact on the remaining populations in the wild.
A team of experts is then dispatched to assess the appropriateness and suitability of the intended destination with exports being permitted only in cases where such technical assessments have made positive findings.
All live exports in Zimbabwe are conducted in compliance with national and international veterinary requirements and quarantine conditions, including IATA Global Standards for the Transportation of Live Animals by Air.
Wildlife captures and translocations are done by experienced and skilled personnel who are guided by CITES regulations as well as international best practice.
Zimbabwe is party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) since 1982 and is bound by the provisions of this convention in all its wildlife trade with other countries.
Permits and certificates for international trade under CITES are issued by designated national CITES authorities.
The major objective of doing live sales is to fund conservation and wildlife management, due to local over-abundance of elephants in the Hwange-Matetsi Complex, we do live sales in line with the authority’s Elephant Management Plan (2015- 2020) and our national policy and legislation.
Tinashe Farawo is Communications and Public Relations Manager for Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority