ZIMBABWE is in a dilemma: Its elephant population of over 100 000 jumbos now far exceed the country’s carrying capacity by threefold.
This is at a time when the country is prohibited from trade in tusks because of a nine year moratorium on ivory trade, which expires in 2017.
The moratorium was imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), fearing that it would stimulate poaching of elephants, which are threatened with extinction.
But now the country no longer has enough space to store its rich harvest of ivory and hides from elephants that are dying either as a result of animal control, natural deaths, breakages and confiscation.
With the US$15,6 million worth of ivory in its stores now proving to be an albatross around the necks of the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZNPWMA), getting rid of the 62 374,33 tonnes of elephant ivory is as difficult as raising enough money to look after the ivory vault.
The ZNPWMA cannot export the ivory because it is bound by the conditions set by CITES, which prohibits any form of trade in endangered species and products except through prescribed rules.
In 2007, CITES permitted the southern African countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to conduct one-off auctions of a combined 108 tonnes of ivory to buyers from China and Japan. After the auctions, which were conducted in 2008 and where Zimbabwe sold only five tonnes, the nine-year moratorium on ivory sales followed.
With nearly 100 000 elephants, Zimbabwe has the third largest elephant population in Africa.
Others are Kenya, Namibia and South Africa.
The ZNPWMA says it no longer has space to store the ivory, collected monthly at an average of 1,1 tonnes.
“…governments the world over fund conservation, the opposite is true for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The authority is therefore saying elephant ivory in store represents animals that are already dead and why should we not use the dead to look after the living animals?” mourned Caroline Washaya-Moyo, the public relations manager for ZNPWMA.
Although Zimbabwe is currently under a nine-year long CITES ivory trade moratorium, it can still make use of its elephant products by, for example, working on its tucks and hides before exporting the value added products.
The country, which consumes less than a tonne of ivory annually, is also allowed to sell its tusks quarterly and has since 2007 done so only about three times.
It also can sell its elephant hides locally, export live elephants to scientifically-approved destination as well as use elephant hair.
The country’s huge elephant herd, which is now difficult to manage and straining the environments, has become an easy target for poachers. Without adequate funding to carry out proper anti-poaching exercises, ZNPWMA is faced with a frustrating situation.
“Law enforcement requires operational equipment such as patrol kits, uniforms, radio communication kits, vehicles, boats, tracking equipment (e.g. GPS) which the Authority is in dire need of. Currently most of the existing field equipment is old and obsolete. The current scenario is that poachers are getting sophisticated. In some situations poachers are now using ‘high-tech’ gear including night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilisers, silencers and helicopters to carry out illegal activities,” Washaya-Moyo pointed out.
ZNPWMA chairper-son, Jerry Gotora explained: “Zimbabwe got five annotations that allow domestic trade in ivory internally. However, because of lack of capacity we have a limited consumption rate of the domestic ivory. We are not able to consume all the ivory we produce.”
ZNPWMA manages some five million hectares of land or 13 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area. Its mandate is to manage Zimbabwe’s entire wildlife population, whe-ther on private or communal lands. ZNPWMA is not funded by government and is mandated to find own sources of revenue to sustain its operation.
Despite having a proud history of sound management that endeavours to preserve the unique flora and fauna heritage of Zimbabwe, the authority’s gains hang in the balance at the most critical time in its struggle to protect the world’s largest land mammal — the elephant.