Zimbabwe’s bid to push to trade ivory at this year’s conference of parties fails

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Tuesday, 27 December 2022 15:33

A Zimbabwe National Parks' armed guard walks through piles of elephant ivory stored inside a strong room where Zimbabwe's ivory is secured during a tour of the stockpile by European Union envoys, in Harare, on May 16, 2022. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Zimbabwe’s hopes to sell its stockpile of ivory worth $600m were squashed after its proposal was rejected at the 19th Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) held in Panama.

Addressing journalists at a post-cabinet briefing in early December in the capital Harare, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa says Zimbabwe proposed to remove the requirement that Zimbabwe’s elephants listed on CITES’ Appendix II can only be traded to “acceptable” destinations.

“The proposal had 15 members in favour, 83 against and 17 abstained,” she says.

“Zimbabwe, in conjunction with Botswana, Namibia, Cambodia and Eswatini submitted a proposal to include consideration of livelihoods and food security which was also rejected.”

Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), a government agency that manages the national parks, says it will keep on engaging communities around the world to secure support.

“The President keeps on engaging and re-engaging. This is our strategy and we will continue to do that. We are encouraging people and communities across the globe that they need to respect science. Our decisions are science-based, they are not political because elephants know no boundaries,” he tells The Africa Report.

“Look at climate change, drought and loss of habitat. We need to manage it. The country is not expanding but the human and animal populations keep on increasing.”

Transparency and accountability

To lure support from the international community, Zimparks invited envoys in May from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the United States to tour heavily guided facilities of stockpile ivory seized from poachers and collected from elephants that died in the capital Harare.

Zimparks officials pleaded with the European Union and American ambassadors to back them when seeking permission to sell this stockpiled ivory.

Harare has always maintained that the money will go toward wildlife conservation.

But environmental experts like Tapuwa O’bren Nhachi fear the money is prone to abuse by the current government.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s rule has been marred by maladministration and corruption since taking over the reins of power from Robert Mugabe in November 2017.

Nhachi says Zimparks has a point but the issue remains on transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure that proceeds from the sale will go to the intended use.

“The sale should be allowed to go ahead in a transparent and accountable manner so that the proceeds can be channeled to developmental issues that include compensation for victims of human and wildlife conflict and animal rehabilitation projects as well as the relocation of the excess herd of elephants,” he says.

“Zimbabwe is going towards general elections in 2023, if not monitored such funds might be a competitive advantage for the governing party.

Increasing elephant population

Zimbabwe was banned from trading in ivory in 1989 by CITES, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals from the threats of international trade.

The ban was aimed at increasing the population of endangered species particularly the African elephant by preventing poaching mostly by criminal syndicates with government connections, according to CITES.

Fingers have been pointed at top military and police officers in Zimbabwe for their involvement in running poaching syndicates in elephants and rhino-dominated areas such as Hwange National Park, the biggest wildlife reserve in the country.

Elisabeth Valeiro president of the Association for Tourism Hwange, tells The Africa Report that Zimbabwe, as one of the few places where elephants still exist, has a responsibility to conserve and nurture them.

“The prohibition of ivory trading should remain in place failing which, we will see an increase in poaching and the exploitation of this endangered species,” says Valeiro, a biochemist by profession who owns  Gwango, a tourist destination in Hwange.

Human-wildlife conflict

Zimbabwe’s excess number of elephants is escalating conflict between the endangered species and humans, according to Zimparks.

Hwange National Park alone is home to 45,000 elephants which is twice its carrying capacity, according to World Wide Fund for Nature, a non-governmental organisation that manages wildlife and protected areas.

Zimbabwe’s elephant population is more than 84,000, according to the 2014 census.

But considering the population normally increases at an average percentage of five, Zimparks’ estimates show that from 2014 Zimbabwe now has over 100,000 elephants.

A director of a nonprofit group that seeks to protect elephants, rhinoceroses, and other large mammals in Zimbabwe parks, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, believes the government is exaggerating figures for the elephant population in the country to lure support to be allowed to trade in ivory.

“I would contest there is an excess of elephants in Zimbabwe,” he says.

Inaccurate data

Valeiro says she is not convinced that the data regarding elephants in Hwange is accurate.

“I’ve lived at the edge of Hwange National Park for over a decade. The elephant population is not increasing and is not a threat to the habitat in the Park. It doesn’t take much to see that we have a responsibility to protect and safely keep the elephant herds that we have,” she says.

“Look at the statistics across our continent. Elephant numbers have reduced from five million elephants 100 years ago to less than 500,000.”

The prohibition of ivory trading should remain in place failing which, we will see an increase in poaching and the exploitation of this endangered species.

In March 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the African forest elephant as Critically Endangered and the African savanna elephant as Endangered on its list of threatened species.

This was because of the decline in the elephant population for the past decades due to poaching for ivory and loss of habitat.

Cases of escalations between humans and wildlife continue to rise.

Population growth

In 2020 Zimparks received 1,500 complaints while as of April 2021 they have already received 1,000 cases, according to the State-owned wildlife management agency.

Valeiro says population growth in and around wildlife habitats is partly fueling the increase in human-wildlife conflict.

“As a nation, we need to redress the resettlement models that we currently have, to ensure we maintain the existing landscapes and vital wildlife corridors between habitats and allow for the continued free flow of movement between protected areas,” she says.

“Animals have the migratory patterns that they have established for centuries and disturbing these spaces means that animals are forced to enter alternative spaces – and often this is where they come into contact with humans. We must prevent settlements in areas that are renowned as natural wildlife corridors.”

Climate change is a threat to the elephants too.

In September this year, for the first time in 60 years, Zimbabwe started to relocate more than 2,500 wild animals including 400 elephants from a southern reserve to one in the country’s north to rescue them from drought.

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