Zimbabwe is appealing to the European Union to assist in having the unilateral ban on ivory and rhino horn trade imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lifted.
The country is sitting on more than 136 tonnes of ivory and rhino horns worth over US$600 million, which ironically, Zimbabwe is spending resources protecting 24/7 without unlocking any value.
If the ivory and rhino horn stockpiles are to be sold, the money generated could be used to support sustainable wildlife conservation for 20 years.
Yesterday, some of the Western countries’ ambassadors toured the ZimParks ivory stockpile in Harare for them to get an appreciation of the situation.
Last week, ZimParks said they were expecting ambassadors from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, France, United Kingdom, the European Union and Japan to view the stockpiles.
The ambassadors were yesterday given an overall presentation by ZimParks Director General, Dr Fulton Mangwanya, who made an impassioned plea on the need to have the CITES ban lifted.
“When elephants are protected, many other wildlife species are also protected as elephants are a keystone species with huge home ranges straddling multiple land use areas, ecologically connecting landscapes.
“If we can unlock the value of the stockpile, all proceeds will go towards implementation of the National Elephant Management Plan covering conservation measures and initiatives aimed at enhancing protection of elephants inside protected areas where approximately 90 percent of the population is found and also in Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) areas where the remainder roams wild and free.
“Since the elephants rely on habitat components beyond the protected area, we need to make a lot of investments to support local communities that are bearing the brunt of living with dangerous wildlife for wildlife to remain a viable land use option through the community lense as they have the power to support elephant conservation outside protected areas, including movement corridors or converting such landscapes into more fragmented and unviable habitat for wildlife.
“This is why the CAMPFIRE programme is a priority for us,” he said.
Dr Mangwanya said they had no plans to fence the elephant range areas to support Community Based Conservation Initiatives (CBCI) and for communities to benefit from their wildlife heritage.
“Our desire is for Zimbabwe to remain a shining example of successful and sustainable elephant conservation in the whole world. When other countries with decimated elephant populations look at us, they should envy us and not pity us.
“Our predicament is not encouraging any other elephant range states to grow their populations. They ask — when we get to Zimbabwe’s elephant population levels, are there any benefits or incentives for a country to be in such a situation?
“They look at us and what they see is Zimbabwe being punished for achieving such a milestone in the history of elephant conservation. Instead of getting a pat on the back and the carrot for doing well, we seldom see the support we expect to legally benefit for the resource we are managing well . . . we always receive the stick.
“After every CITES meeting, we have bruises to nurse and a mammoth task to continue having support of local communities on elephant conservation on an area which is as large as the Parks Estate,” he said.
Dr Mangwanya said in the national stockpile, there is a share of ivory from communal and private areas as well.
“All ivory pieces are traceable back to source. Ivory is the teeth of the elephant, they grow and also fall naturally, and elephants succumb to natural attrition after all.
“So we collect all such ivory for safe keeping and that’s an expense. Just imagine taking care of an elephant and defending its territory since it was a calf up to 60 to 70-years-old, removing snares, intercepting poisons, arresting poachers, doing outreach initiatives when they stray into people’s crop fields, barns of grain destroyed and buying coffins when someone loses a life or suffers permanent disability.
“Then the Jumbo’s teeth drops with age and it can’t feed itself, we pick the ivory and put it safely in the vault anticipating financial returns,” Dr Mangwanya said.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, the Ambassador of Switzerland to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, Mr Niculin Jager, said the country has a rich biodiversity and they were keen to continue providing support towards the conservation of the biodiversity.
“On behalf of the ambassadors that are here, I wish to express our thanks to ZimParks, especially the director general, Dr FU Mangwanya, for the warm welcome and the briefing on ZimParks and the wonderful work they are doing.
“A brief/discussion of this nature is important for us to understand the functioning of ZimParks and how as players in the international community we can contribute towards conservation efforts.
“Zimbabwe has a rich biodiversity and through our governments and foundations in our countries, we are keen to continue providing support towards conservation of the biodiversity.
“Conservation and prevention of illegal wildlife trade is an international issue because of the involvement of criminal syndicates in illegal wildlife trade hence there is a need to strengthen international co-operation,” he said.
In 2019, President Mnangagwa said the “one-size-fits-all” ban on ivory and rhino horn trade, enforced by CITES, was stifling conservation efforts.
The President made the revelations while officially opening the inaugural African Union and United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls. The summit was being held under the theme, “Communities for Conservation, Harnessing Conservation Tourism and Supporting Governments”.
President Mnangagwa called for free trade in hunting products as these have a positive impact on the national and local economies of African countries.
“Safari hunting is a vital cog in successful wildlife economies. Proceeds obtained from hunting are reinvested towards provision of water, fencing and enforcement among other conservation initiatives,” he said.
The President reaffirmed Zimbabwe’s commitment to play its part in addressing the challenge of poaching.
He said while Zimbabwe subscribed to the founding principles of CITES, it was concerned with the banning of trade.
“We are gravely concerned by one-size-fits-all approach where banning of trade is creeping into the CITES decision-making processes. We call upon the institution to resist the temptation of being a ‘policing institution’ and instead be a developmental one which promotes the intricate balance between conservation and sustainable utilisation of all wildlife resources.
“Currently, Zimbabwe has about US$600 million worth of ivory and rhino horns stocks, most of which is from natural attrition of those animals.
“If we are allowed to dispose of the same under agreed to parameters, the revenue derived therefrom would suffice to finance our operational conservation efforts for the next 20 years,” President Mnangagwa said.
He called for the fair and equitable sharing of proceeds from natural resources among communities living within wildlife areas.