Poachers cost Zimbabwe US$3 billion
ZIMBABWE lost about 24 000 elephants to poachers over the past 20 years, prejudicing the hard currency starved economy of an estimated US$3 billion in sport hunting fees alone, the Financial Gazette can report.
Poachers have become a menace within Zimbabwe’s animal sanctuaries where they are running rings around a poorly resourced Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA).
Elephants have been their main target, as poachers seek to satisfy an insatiable demand for ivory, skins, bones and other jumbo parts in some parts of the world.
The vast Asian market tops the list of destinations where elephant products are in huge demand.
Statistics from Africa Wildlife Foundation, whose mission is to ensure the continent’s flora and fauna endure forever, suggest that an estimated 1 200 elephants are killed by marauding poachers every year.
This has been the trend from 1995 to date.
Cumulatively, a whooping 24 000 elephants have been killed inside two decades, bringing home a sad reality that the parks authorities have grappled with over the years.
These giant mammals were either gunned down, poisoned or killed through other means.
If one were to use an elephant’s sport hunting price of about US$120 000, what that means is that Zimbabwe has been losing revenue at the rate of US$144 million annually.
Progressively, nearly US$3 billion has been lost over a period of 20 years.
Alistair Pole, Africa Wildlife Foundation’s director of lands and conservation in Zimbabwe, called for urgent action to save the elephant specie.
For the country’s conservation efforts to make an impact, Pole believes that Zimbabwe cannot go it alone without support from international agencies.
“We have been losing a lot of elephants in the past 20 years,” he told delegates attending a stakeholders’ conference convened recently to explore measures to combat wildlife poaching in Zimbabwe.
“A census in the Zambezi Valley showed there were 19 000 elephants in 2001. There are now 12 000 elephants, that is a loss of 7 000. The real loss is about 20 000 to 24 000 elephants,” he said before posing a question: “Where are the elephants going?
Elephants across the African continent face the threat of extinction in the next 50 years amid soaring demand for ivory from Asia, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
Zimbabwe has a large elephant population of about 100,000, but the number has sharply declined in recent years.
The population in the northern Sebungwe district has dropped 75 percent since 2001 — from 14,000 to 3,500 — while the number of elephants in middle Zambezi Valley complex fell 40 percent to from 18,000 to 11,500, according to the Zambezi Society, a local conservation group.
In Zimbabwe, reports suggest that poachers are moving away from traditional ways of using firearms to kill wild animals.
In recent times, poachers have been spiking food and water with cyanide and leaving it as bait for the pachyderms.
The chemical is commonly used in Zimbabwe’s mining industry, making it relatively easy to obtain.
Poachers began using the poison in 2013, when as many as 300 elephants died in Hwange National Park from salt pans laced with cyanide, according to elephant conservation groups.
Many vultures also died after feeding on the poisoned carcasses.
Also worrying to conservationists are reports that rangers have turned into accessories to poaching.
The country’s rangers work under harsh conditions, without enough equipment to take on the increasingly sophisticated poaching syndicates, and also not being adequately remunerated.
It is these poor working conditions that could be fuelling the sharp rise in corruption within the national parks, as rangers are alleged to be assisting poachers to kill elephants for a fee.
Most of these rangers are employed by the ZPWMA.
There are also indications of more sophisticated syndicates conspiring to deplete the country’s elephant herd.
Pole said the future of Zimbabwe’s wildlife is not looking good unless authorities adopt a multidimensional approach to stemming the scourge.
“It is a bit sick. We have to diagnose the core problem and create a healthy wildlife sector. If we don’t create a situation where communities benefit we are fighting a losing battle. We also have rhino poaching that is going on,” he noted.
The amount of revenue the country is losing is much higher if losses from other animal and plant species were to be included.
Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the Minister of Environment, recently said government was working around the clock to raise funding to protect wildlife.
The Environment Minister also raised concern over the country’s ivory stockpile which is continuing to rise from many sources such as problem animals control and natural death.
“The crisis poses serious development, environmental and security challenges. It is pushing endangered species towards extinction. There are 83 000 elephants, and a large number of them continue to be prey to poachers,” she said.
The country has stockpiled about 78 000kg of ivory worth US$12 million, mainly from natural deaths.
In July, wildlife officials in Zimbabwe requested the United States to reverse a ban on ivory imports it implemented a year ago citing concerns about the sustainability of the country’s elephant population.
Zimbabwe’s elephant-hunting industry generates US$14 million a year and helps control the population of 97,500 species that trample over trees and farmers’ fields.
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