Zimbabwe: Sustainable Utilisation of Wildlife the Way to Go

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elephants

OFFICIALLY opening this year's Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni said Africa defeated European imperialism in the 1960s and '70s when the continent was much weaker than now.

The magic was unity.

Speaking at the just-ended Elephant Summit in Kasane, Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) presidents took turns to call for unity in the protection and sustainable utilisation of the region's wildlife resource.

First, it was SADC chair and Namibian President Hage Geingob, who said Europeans cannot lecture the region on conservation when they poached their animals to extinction.

President Mnangagwa then chipped in saying those who criticise our conservation methods must come and learn how it is done, because there was evidence that the region was managing the resource well.

The summit was meant to deliberate on the management of elephants in the region and the clarion call was to ensure that communities benefit from these iconic species.

President Mnangagwa emphasised that it would be a failure on the part of leaders if communities are not protected from the animals.

The five countries, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe elephants are in Appendix 2, however, some of the elements of the annotation are no longer relevant or not appropriate and the countries are jointly working together to have this amended.

Previously, all the African elephant population was listed in Appendix 1 since 1989.

Elephants from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia were transferred to Appendix 2 in 1997, while those of South Africa were transferred three years later.

In 2008, these four elephant range states conducted a once-off legal sale of more than 100 tonnes of raw ivory to approved trading partners in Asia. The sale of raw ivory, without doubt generated the much-needed revenue for elephant conservation and management.

Zimbabwe believes in sustainable conservation of its wildlife, so as the SADC region, in other words, elephants must pay for their upkeep.

Southern Africa has the largest elephant population and research has shown that the numbers are increasing and there is evidence of non-significant decline over the last 10 years.

For example, in Zimbabwe, out of four elephant ranges, two of them have booming numbers, while the other two have recorded a mild decrease. KAZA TFCA has more than 70 percent of Africa's elephant population, most of Africa's large carnivores and wild dogs, with 25 percent of them in Zimbabwe.

KAZA consists of 520 000km, which consists of 14 percent (Zimbabwe), 30 percent (Botswana), 25 percent (Zambia), 14 percent (Namibia), 17 percent (Angola).

KAZA was established to ensure that the world's largest conservation land successfully conserves its wildlife for the benefit of communities within the block and also to ensure sustainable tourism development for the benefit of the region and its economic development.

According to research done within the KAZA TFCA and the region, southern Africa is the only region whose overall Proportion of Illegally Killed Elephants (PIKE) have not risen above 0,5 since 2003.

This is evidence of how important these TFCAs are in sustainable conservation for the benefit of the people of our motherland.

The elephant populations of the four range states are an anomaly in CITES, they comprise more than 256 000 elephants, or more than 61 percent of all remaining elephants on the continent. It is of paramount importance to note that more than half of these elephants are managed in the world's largest conservation area, (KAZA) of which nearly 80 percent of these elephants are in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The Joint Management Committee meeting which was held in Victoria Falls last month, obviously discussed movement corridors between various national parks, conservancies, game reserves, state forests and hunting areas within the TFCAs.

KAZA TFCA is also doing a lot of cross border cooperation on joint patrols, law enforcement, anti-poaching and a long-term elephant conservation strategy.

Results of these activities are there for all to see through the arrests and conviction of poachers in defence of the region's most treasured assets, which is wildlife.

There is no doubt that such meetings like the one held in the resort town of Victoria Falls and the Kasane Summit will help in uniting the region in national law enforcement and anti-poaching strategies to reduce poaching and illegal wildlife trade.

Needless to say that most African countries struggle to fund conservation ahead of competing social needs like education, health among others, hence the need to ensure that these animals must pay for their own upkeep, like provision of water, security and habitat.

Africa has four main elephant ranges, namely, East Africa, West Africa, Central and Southern Africa, although, southern is the smallest, it has the largest number of elephants, hence its call to have a say on elephant management through these TFCAs.

This is the region which lives alongside potentially dangerous and destructive wildlife, where some seem to cherish wildlife above any concern for people who are killed, who have lost their cattle, crops.

Although these animals are beautiful and we must cherish them, in some cases they have impoverished communities and left permanent scars in the lives of thousands, hence the need to control the numbers through sustainable utilisation of wildlife for the benefit of communities. Communities must view these beautiful animals as economic opportunities to reduce retaliatory killings.

Since the last sale of ivory more than 10 years ago, ivory from natural mortality and those that are destroyed for management purposes such as problem animal control have been piling up and in case of Zimbabwe, the ivory is now more than 100 000kgs.

The ivory records are computerised to ensure traceability and without doubt this is a cost to the authority.

This ivory stock pile can be disposed to responsible markets and generate the much-needed resources for conservation, supporting community-based initiatives in tourism, securing elephant habitat and provision of water especially this year where the region is facing drought. In addition, resources are urgently needed to support community conservation programmes for KAZA TFCAs and ensure the security and future of animals, because as long as communities are not benefiting from these resources, conflict will always arise.

The steady increase of elephants has resulted in escalated human-wildlife conflict and in Zimbabwe more than 200 lives have been lost over the last five years, while more than 7 000 hectares of crops have been destroyed.

The cost of living alongside elephants and other wildlife cannot be allowed to exceed their benefits or most importantly the destruction of their own habitat, therefore, KAZA TFCA is engaged in several other crucial transfrontier and community conservation programmes that need more funding and support.

The region deserves a pat on the back, not a slap considering the enormous work it is doing for the benefit of the globe, hence the need for more support for the protection and conservation of wildlife in the face of increased human population, infrastructure development and other land uses, yet the land is not expanding, because no one will be driven to the sea but to continuously living in harmony with nature.

Wildlife conservation requires enormous resources and communities are without doubt the first line of defence, and like what happened during the liberation struggles of the region, the fish and water analogue still speaks to our reality in the conservation of wildlife.

The future of wildlife within KAZA TFCAs or the region depends on the aspirations, needs and attitudes of the people who live with these animals. Truth be told, member states within KAZA TFCAs protected areas cannot absorb any additional elephants or in some cases cannot maintain the high numbers of these species we already have.

Historically, communities have been living with these animals and there is enough evidence to that, but due to their increased numbers, and other factors like climate change, there has been competition for resources, leading to human-wildlife conflicts.

It is, therefore, important that free movement of animals within the KAZA TFCAs is enabled and for that to happen, there is need for goodwill of people within communities, and for that to happen these animals must benefit these communities through infrastructure development, employment opportunities, schools and clinics construction among other benefits.

There is evidence that in southern Africa that if communities are benefiting, our elephants will be safe and the region must be allowed to make such important decisions for the benefit of their peoples and the Kasane summit rested the case after leaders within KAZA called for communities to benefit.

The voices of communities whose relatives have been killed, whose livelihoods have been destroyed needs to be heard for the protection of wildlife.

Tinashe Farawo is the Public Relations Manager for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. He is a holder of Msc in International Relations (UZ), Bsc Media and Society Studies (MSU), Diploma in Mass Communication, (Harare Polytechnic, School of Journalism and Media Studies)

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