Harare — KENYA and Mali have published proposals for a ban on ivory trade in Zimbabwe, which they are expected to present at this year's Cites meeting in The Netherlands in June.
Cites, whose full name is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement between governments drafted with the aim of ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and provides varying degrees of protection to more than 33 000 species of animals and plants.
The proposal, besides being selective and hard against Zimbabwe solely, also states that South Africa, Botswana and Namibia should stop trading in ivory but that hunters in those three countries should be allowed to take their trophies.
If the proposal is adopted by the 168 countries that are signatories to the Cites Treaty, hunters are likely to stop coming to Zimbabwe owing to the conditions attached to trophy hunting and the ban on trade in raw ivory.
Zimbabwe's tourism players, particularly the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, have been working hard to revive the sector with minimal resources.
If Kenya and Mali succeed, this would deal a major financial blow to the authority, which nets around US$15 million from the annual hunting quota of elephants.
"A hunter pays about US$10 000 to hunt an elephant for three weeks and he is also allowed to hunt an assortment of other animals.
"Hunting of lions, which we suspended temporarily to improve the trophy quality, costs US$3 500 each and buffalo costs US$3 000," Parks director general Dr Morris Mtsambiwa said.
He, however, said the authority was working flat out on a comprehensive response to defend and protect Zimbabwe's hunting sector at the Cites meeting.
Dr Mtsambiwa said they had since set up a national technical committee comprising natural resources experts from both the Government and non-governmental organisations.
He said the committee had been given the task of specifically working on a document on issues of elephant management and sustainability.
Dr Mtsambiwa said Zimbabwean communities living in areas with elephants understood better how the ballooning jumbo population had caused havoc to both vegetation and crops and claimed human lives.
"We are likely to face a big population crisis than we have at the moment if Zimbabwe's elephant hunting is affected for the next two decades," he said.
A survey conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature and African Wildlife Foundation showed the country had an elephant population of around 110 000 against a carrying capacity of 47 000.
Although the figure was being contested by some organisations, Zimbabwe, which has an annual hunting quota of 500, has the highest elephant population in the world and has never run out of the species in the past five years.
Furthermore, an annual population growth rate of 5 percent has ensured a continued rapid rise in the number of elephants.
Parks board chairperson Mr George Pangeti last week said the country had strong and workable systems in place to control and adaptively manage the elephant population.
He said following from that, Zimbabweans needed to benefit from the elephant and all its products and banning activities which brought money to the custodians of the resource was "nothing but an injustice".
"We have put in place provisions that satisfy the requirements of the Convention and have adhered to them and even managed to control other species that were not listed to be protected in the Cites Treaty. We have done extremely well," Mr Pangeti said.
Environment experts say the hypocrisy behind the pushing of the ban on raw ivory trade in Zimbabwe is laid bare by the fact that Kenyan wildlife experts visited Zimbabwe on two occasions last year to learn about how communities here are benefiting from natural resources surrounding them.
"Yes, the Kenyans were impressed by our Campfire (Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources), among others, and we thought they were convinced about sustainable management of our elephants. Pushing this agenda came as a surprise to us," Dr Mtsambiwa said.
Kenya's elephant population went down drastically due to poaching in the 1980s.
The East African country also believes in non-hunting tourism, an approach which does not work in Zimbabwe where hunting and culling are the two options to control the ever-growing population.
Kenya also argues that allowing ivory trade in Zimbabwe makes its small herds further vulnerable to poaching.
However, Zimbabwe has one of the most stringent control mechanisms for ivory trade. It is virtually impossible to smuggle ivory in and out of the country while tusks from poached elephants can easily be detected because of continued monitoring of curio shops.
All recovered poached ivory is kept by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority under heavy guard.