ZIMBABWE risks a ban from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, emanating from the chaos in the Save Valley Conservancy, where owners were denied hunting permits
The permits were issued to 25 individuals, the majority of them Zanu PF sympathisers, in a move analysts said would put a dent on the country's image ahead of the co-hosting of the UN World Tourism Organisation General Assembly next year.
Industry players told Standardbusiness on Friday the impasse may prompt the US Fish and Wildlife Service to impose a ban on trophy exports to the US.
This paper was told on Friday, such a move would kill the US$30 million safari business.
"The organisation is not likely to accept the importation of trophies into the US if Zimbabwe is seen to have violated best practices. Importation into the US will be terminated because it threatens the integrity of hunting," an industry player said on Friday.
Trophy exports to the US constitute 80% of the industry's total exports.
The fresh setback to hit the industry comes months after Parks and Wildlife Management Authority did not renew leases for operators at a time they had already secured clients.
Vitalis Chadenga, the authority's director-general, was not answering his phone on Friday.
Emmanuel Fundira, Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president, said the denial of permits to hunters destroyed the image of the industry and led to negative perceptions.
"Empowerment needs to be managed in a transparent manner with a high degree of accountability so that it does not become self-serving. That way it can deliver value for the business and community concerned," he said, adding that expropriation would only deter investment.
Another operator bemoaned failure by authorities to give hunting licences to the conservancy owners.
"Clients paid last year to hunt in the concession but the owners cannot fulfil their obligations as a result. It puts a big dent on the country's image," the operator said.
The operator said the new permit holders had neither the knowledge nor the clients related to the industry and wondered how they were given permits in the middle of the hunting season.
The hunting season runs from April to November each year.
Following the invasion of the Save Valley Conservancy by Zanu PF-aligned officials, led by Chiredzi South MP, Ailess Baloyi, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister, Walter Mzembi, instructed the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) board to recommend solutions to the impasse.
The board also recommended that permits issued to partners should be revoked until the matter had been resolved.
The board noted that one of the policy implementation challenges was that while the lease holder applied for hunting quotas to the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the farmer also applied for the same hunting quotas for the same area.
"This has also brought confusion, leading to Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to stop issuing hunting permits. This has resulted in illegal hunting taking place, communities encroaching into conservancies, the product being destroyed and there is now negative publicity on the destination," said the ZTA board.
Zimbabwe presently has a wildlife-based land reform policy with the objective of ensuring conservation and sustainable use of wildlife for present and future generations and to maintain a proportion of land outside protected areas under wildlife management.
Challenges associated with perceived country risk, absence of working capital, insufficient domestic services and dilapidating infrastructure have over the past decade curtailed any significant development of the tourism industry.