Zimbabwe escalates ivory battle


This country’s elephant population is second only to Botswana with approximately 130 000 elephants.

ZIMBABWE will resume its battle to press the world to reverse a decades-long ban on ivory trade at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in South Africa next month, which has cost the country US$226 million between 2002 and 2014.

The country, whose elephant population is estimated at about 80 000, twice its carrying capacity, blames CITES for a poaching scourge that has reached alarming levels.

This elephant population is second only to Botswana with approximately 130 000 elephants.

Harare argues that controlled trade would give government a chance to raise funding to combat poaching and to bankroll its conservation programmes.

“Zimbabwe’s elephants are wholly dependent on establishing regular open-market sales of elephant ivory to fund management and enforcement actions,” it says in a document to be presented at the CITES conference.

The cash-strapped government, battling one of its worst droughts in two decades, has been struggling to raise financial resources to import food for about four million people facing starvation, while its nearly 500 000 strong civil service has had to endure months of delayed salary payments.

Under the circumstances, Zimbabwe has had to prioritise the most immediate human needs at the expense of funding its wildlife estates, which require US$17 million per annum.

An additional US$500 000 is required to fund air surveys every three years.

“The ivory trade ban has been a failure,” Zimbabwe says in the 39-page report seen by theFinancial Gazette.

The report is believed to have been prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“Far from the ban being part of the solution to illegal elephant killing in Africa, it must be seen as part of the problem. Zimbabwe remains despondent about the general approach to conservation enshrined in CITES (and the United States Endangered Species Act). Zimbabwe’s experience with recovery of declining species populations is that in all cases it has been successfully achieved by removing perverse incentives (such as restrictive legislation), devolving authority to local people and promoting a high value for wildlife products,” the report says.

Zimbabwe has started a programme to export jumbos to China, where it will continue exporting as part of conservation efforts.

“Between 2002 and 2014, Zimbabwe is estimated to have lost 439 metric tonnes of ivory worth US$226 million to illegal hunting,” according to the report.

“Zimbabwe views this as a direct result of the ivory trade ban. The country’s current stockpile of ivory weighs about 70 tonnes and is worth an estimated US$35 million.

National parks, which cover about 11 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area, are surrounded by “hostile people who are trying to recover their wasted investment in elephants”,  the report says.

“A legal trade in ivory would be beneficial to the Zimbabwe elephant population. Without it, elephants are likely to become extinct in Zimbabwe.

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