Zimbabwe in poaching dilemma ahead of CITIES meeting
By Stephen Tsoroti
POACHING, corruption and poverty have put Zimbabwe in a sticky situation ahead of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Durban later this year.
Zimbabwe, which has always advocated for trade in its elephant species in order to prop up its conservation efforts, is being bogged down by incessant poaching, corruption and abject poverty which threaten its wildlife species.
The country, which still stockpiles its ivory, recently took up a position, together with Namibia, to petition CITES to remove both countries’ elephants from protection, which prohibits them from selling elephant ivory.
The two countries say that the international ban imposed in 1989 on the sale of ivory has been costly; officials from the two southern African countries are trying to make a case for releasing their ivory stockpiles onto the global market to realise earnings from their elephant populations.
They argue that CITES’ Appendix II listing, which allows only limited trade, subject to particular conditions, has not allowed them to realise the value of their well-managed elephant populations, numbering around 84 000 in Zimbabwe and 24 000 in Namibia.
Conservationist, Christopher Magadza, said Zimbabwe has no leg to stand on.
“There are lots of issues we have to put right. Certainly, corruption has tainted our image to put up a straightforward position on trade in certain species.
“Poaching and rampant corruption has created a problem to win the confidence of the international society,” said Magadza, once a member of the Zimbabwe Natural Resources Board.
Trade in natural resources is controlled through CITES, which evolved in response to the negative effects of trade in natural resources and provides a global basis for the conservation of species, through the listing of species on appendices to the Convention.
Appendix I lists species in which international trade is almost completely prohibited and includes species “threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade”.
Appendix II lists species “which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with survival”.
In southern Africa, two species that are at particular risk are the Black Rhino and the African elephant.
For the black rhino, in particular, the CITES listing has been particularly ineffective in practical terms and there have been strong calls for other mechanisms to deal with the threat of its extinction.
The Department of National Parks applies to CITES each year for quotas of elephant, leopard, cheetah and crocodile.
Animals that are present in Zimbabwe, but not hunted because of low populations are rhinos, roan antelopes, lichtenstein’s hartebeests and the painted dogs (also known as wild dogs).
The assumption of the market-based solution to the illegal use of wildlife is that countries in which this is implemented are functional and not corrupt.
Where the law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and even the wildlife management agencies have been tainted with corruption, this would be a highly risky strategy.
The United Nations Environment Programme notes that there is a growing demand for illegally sourced wildlife products, and that the illicit trade has escalated into a global crisis. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives.
Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, admitted recently that the country is under severe pressure to preserve its natural resources.
Commemorating the 2016 World Environment Day recently, the Minister said current trends showed that the country was losing its environmental assets at an alarming rate.
She attributed this to human negligence, leading to unsustainable use of natural resources.
Many conservationists claim that until local people can place a value on a live elephant, or any other wildlife, and see some benefit from it, they will continue to kill and poach to boost their incomes.
“It is absurd not to think of using wildlife,” said Magadza.
“We have to protect wildlife, but the best way is to show the people that they have economic value. If people don’t think wildlife can be a source of income, they will kill the species because they need the space for agriculture, cattle grazing, or trees for fuel and building.”
Julia Peirini, of Birdlife Zimbabwe, said many other animal species should be included on the list of protected animals.
“The pangolin (also) needs to be upgraded. Vultures will also need to be, but there is need to collect more evidence of illegal trade in the species. Other species are parrots and brown-headed and grey-headed lillian’s lovebird,” said Peirini.
On current measures by CITES, Peirini said: “I think banning elephant tusks, hides etc is not sufficient to stop the illegal trade. Enforcement is proving difficult. Elephant populations are declining at an unsustainable rate. If the poaching carries on at this rate, we won’t have elephants left on this continent. As Africans, we need to realise that African wildlife is natural capital worth billions if managed properly. At this stage, we are allowing that capital to be wiped out for next to nothing. How many in Africa are benefitting after-all?”
As conservationists mull over their options, the road is likely to be a bumpy one for the southern African wildlife range states.
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