Tinashe Farawo Correspondent
At the weekend, the world converged on the resort town of Victoria Falls for the United Nations, African Union Wildlife Economy.
The summit ran under the theme, “A new initiative to forge a new deal for tourism, rural communities and wildlife by 2030”.
The summit came a month after the Elephant Summit in Botswana which resolved to ensure that KAZA TFCA member states need to work closely to ensure that communities benefit from the natural resources around them.
Needless to say, Southern Africa is home to the largest number of elephants on the continent, with 75 percent of these elephants found within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA), which is some 520 000 sq km in extent.
Calls have grown louder to ensure that communities benefit from the natural resources around them.
There is no doubt that tourism in Zimbabwe, in particular, and some parts of Africa is wildlife based, hence the need to protect this God-given resource for the benefit of current and future generations.
According to the 2016 African Elephant Status Report, the elephant population in the region has declined by almost 30 000 from an estimated 293 447 animals, which was mainly attributed to poaching, climate change-induced drought and loss of habitat.
In fact, loss of habitat has become the biggest threat to the survival of elephants in the region.
There is serious concern about the recent upsurge in the illegal offtake of elephants on much of the African continent.
Analyses by Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) show that 2011 had the highest level of poaching since the programme began in 2002.
Although poaching levels have declined since 2011, the trade peaked in 2012-2013 and has since shown aan incremental decline over the last four years but indications are that, based on more recent data those levels have not significantly declined.
Since the coming in of Zimparks director-general Mr Fulton Mangwanya in 2017, poaching of elephants has declined from as high as 400 five years ago to 12 in 2018.
The decline has been attributed to Mr Mangwanya’s policy of shoot-to-kill and to date at least 20 suspected poachers have unfortunately lost their lives countrywide.
Apart from the shoot-to-kill policy, various interventions have been put in place. These include increased joint patrols in protected areas, education and awareness among judicial officers and communities which live with wildlife.
There is no doubt that communities are the first line of defence and judicial officers have been expeditiously dealing with suspected poachers because they now appreciate the damage poaching can do to our wildlife and economy.
Despite the intense pressures of illegal killing, African elephants continue to live outside protected areas with communities, hence the need to involve them in anti-poaching activities and also to ensure that they benefit from the resource.
The ballooning numbers of elephants in most elephant ranges, not only in Zimbabwe but within the region, poses additional challenges for wildlife authorities, as levels of human-elephant conflict continue to increase.
Over the last five years, more than 200 lives have been lost in human-wildlife conflict and 40 percent of that is human-elephant conflict and thousands of hectares of crops have been lost.
This year alone more than 15 lives have been lost and hundreds have been injured as wild animals continue to invade human settlements.
Needless to say, the African elephant has been the subject of much discussion on international fora such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).
A moratorium on international trade has been in place since 2009 until 2017 but illegal trade has actually increased tremendously during this nine-year period.
In other words, wildlife authorities have been looking after these animals for poachers to benefit, for more than 40 years rhino horn trade has been banned but this has not stopped its poaching, hence the call by the region to lift the ban on ivory trade so that communities benefit from this God-given resource.
Ivory stocks held by the countries whose populations are on Appendix II have continued to grow because of natural mortality and ivory which has been seized from poachers.
The region has been trying to manage the populations but these efforts have been subjected to media scrutiny and ridicule.
This criticism has led to presidents within the KAZA TFCA calling for the international community to support efforts to sustainably conserve the wild animals for the benefit of rural communities.
President Mnangagwa went as far as saying: “We deserve a pat on the back not a slap for what we have done to sustainably conserve our animals.”
Media coverage of wildlife in most international organisations ignores the plight of rural communities who bear the brunt of living with elephants.
During the Elephant Summit in Kasane, which ran under the theme, “Towards a common vision for the management of Southern African elephants”, KAZA members are committed to resolutely and collectively coordinate their efforts to address the elephant issues.
It is through engagement amongst member states, especially engaging communities that live side by side with elephants, that the challenges can be addressed, and this last week the issue of elephants was taken to a higher level with the hosting of Wildlife Economic Summit in Victoria Falls.
The clarion call is communities must benefit from these natural resources, raise awareness on the current status of the African elephant in the Southern African region, exchange of ideas on human-elephant conflict, illegal and legal trade and agreement on concreate interventions to address the challenges posed by these animals.
It is evident from available data that countries such as Botswana and Zimbabwe have large elephant populations.
After the Elephant Summit, there is no doubt that the region needs to regularly provide information on elephant numbers, trends and distribution to all stakeholders including the media, something the wildlife management authority in Zimbabwe is doing.
There is also need to the region to invest in communication so that the international community understands the challenges facing communities living with elephants.
During the Kasane summit, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Massisi said: “We must invest in communications and make more noise than them.”
Our media needs to be educated on wildlife issues so that they appreciate the challenges facing our communities in sharing borders with wildlife, because there is a stark contrast on how tourists and many people from Europe view these animals and how those who have lost their loved ones to these marauding animals view them.
It is important to note that legal international trade in live elephants and their parts has become increasingly more difficult despite the Appendix II listing of elephants permitting commercial trade. Activists have been campaigning to make it more difficult for hunting trophies to be imported into the European Union and United States of America, yet the sport has created thousands of jobs, infrastructure development and, most importantly, the money has been ploughed back into the management and conservation of these animals.
There have been differences in opinion on consumptive versus non-consumptive use of elephants and their parts amongst African elephant range states.
Considering stockpiles from natural mortalities, recoveries from poachers and problem animal control have accumulated in the repositories of Southern Africa range states.
Security and management of these stockpiles is a severe burden on these countries which are grappling with other social needs like health and education.
The Victoria Falls meeting is therefore expected to make a number of resolutions to ensure that communities benefit from this God-given natural resource.
Tinashe Farawo is the Public Relations Manager for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Source : The Herald