The United States’ decision to lift its moratorium on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia isa recognition that people have a fundamental right tobenefit from the sustainable use of their natural environment. Where African nations have employed trophy hunting as part of holistic conservation programs, the rural poor have been given a hand-up out of poverty while allowing wildlife to thrive. Countries that practice sustainable utilization have increasing wildlife populations and vice-versa for countries that are for preservation. Thus where hunting has been banned, the militarization of conservation has increased and with it, credible allegations of human rights abuses. By embracing the former, and rejecting the latter, the United States can continue to live up to its reputation as a global promoter of not only economic opportunity and civil liberties, but of sustainable wildlife conservation as well.
By any standards, Zimbabwe has a proud history of successful elephant conservation. Elephant populations in most parts of Africa were reduced to very low numbers by the late 19th Century. In 1897 approximately 100,000 tonnes of ivory was exported from Africa. In 1900 it was feared that elephants might become extinct south of the Zambezi River. Using historical accounts of elephant numbers, backward extrapolations based on population growth rates, and known levels of elephant kills, it is unlikely that Zimbabwe held more than 4,000 elephants in 1900. More than one hundred years later, in 2014, this number had increased twenty-fold to nearly 83,000 elephants despite attempts to limit elephant population growth between 1960 and 1989 by culling 45,000 elephants in Tsetse control areas and state protected areas. The primary rationale for limiting elephant numbers in protected areas was to reduce their impact on woodland habitats and the loss of plant and animal species as result of elephant-induced habitat change/undesirable modifications that are not in line with our biodiversity conservation objectives. Elephant impacts on woodlands and associated biodiversity losses are still a concern today. Between 1990 and 2006 elephant populations grew exponentially, however, such growth has since been limited by an escalation in illegal harvesting. Nevertheless, the overall population in the country remains at more than 83,000 elephants, which is more than twice the national target population envisaged (ecological carrying capacity) in the 1980s. Elephants are indeed a charismatic species but they can also be very destructive when they destroy crops, threaten livestock and even human lives are lost.
The mandate of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, being a successor Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management is to conserve Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage through effective, efficient and sustainable protection and utilisation of natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations. It was established under the Parks and Wildlife Act of 1996 (Chapter 20.14) as amended in Act No.19 of 2001 which came into operation in 2002 through statutory instrument 144C of 2002. The Authority’s mandate therefore extends beyond the protected area network covering communal land, private wildlife conservancies, as well as the network of 6 Transfrontier conservation Areas (TFCAS). The rational behind establishment of the Authority was to allow it to retain the revenue that it generates for the purpose of funding it’s operations (a self-funding mechanism) and therefore reducing dependency on Treasury. Having such an awesome responsibility and status as a parastatal necessitated the introduction of a commercial dispensation and putting in place effective revenue generation and financial management systems to fulfil the Authority’s mandate whilst protecting the rights of our indigenous local communities to sustainably utilise their wildlife resources. Inside the State protected areas the Authority is responsible for implementation of the protected area specific Management Plans which include resource protection, ecological monitoring, research, managing tourism developmental impacts on flora and fauna. On the other hand the Authority also oversees the implementation of a scientifically-sound and inclusive participatory quota setting process, educations and awareness initiatives, problem bird control, different types of patrols (local, extended, strategic and other specific operations to combat wildlife crime), problem animal management, monitoring hunting concessions and offering technical and professional assistance. The safari hunting industry (legal harvesting) plays a significant role in through generation of revenue that support all conservation activities inside and outside the protected areas in Zimbabwe.
To secure the future of keystone species such as elephants, all wildlife must have value. Value to the governing authorities and to the local communities so that people appreciate wildlife as a form of land use. The greater the value, the greater the tolerance by local communities. The local people who live with wildlife determine the long-term survival of species like elephant. Regulated sport hunting converts wildlife into assets (and their habitat as competitive land use option) for the benefit of local people and the country as a whole. Wildlife can be a most valuable asset and in turn empower local communities in sustaining livelihoods and provide basic necessities as we have witnessed in Zimbabwe. It is indisputable that when wildlife is viewed as a valuable asset, it becomes an economically competitive land use in which often leads to habitat preservation instead of habitat destruction and conversion to agriculture or livestock production. Wildlife have a survival advantage because of user-pay stewardship systems where use revenue generated from tourist hunters is paid through to wildlife authorities and local communities.
The presence of regulated hunting can also reduce illegal activities. Many hunting operators in Zimbabwe have specialised anti-poaching units in Safari areas surrounding communal areas. Regulated hunting is the opposite of poaching.
Trophy hunting revenues are vital because there are not enough tourists to otherwise generate income to support all protected areas. Eco-tourism revenues are typically sufficient to cover the costs of only some of the parks and certainly not to justify wildlife as a land use outside of protected areas. Hunting is able to generate revenues under a wider range of scenarios than eco-tourism, including in remote areas lacking infra-structure, attractive scenery, or high densities of viewable wildlife.
Consequently, elephant and other wildlife populations will be negatively affected through reduced conservation efforts arising from low funding and reduced goodwill from the communities, when in reality the elephant has the economic potential to raise adequate funds to support itself and other species. For these reasons, Zimbabwe confirms its commitment to the sustainable use of elephant and other wildlife in this Action Plan.
Zimbabwe’s innovative Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources, or CAMPFIRE, has had a well-documented, positive impact on that nation’s people and wildlife. This community centred program works in 37 Rural Districts that because of their lack of scenery and infrastructure, and abundance of physical risk, are not viable for photo tourism. Communities receive a share of trophy hunting revenues, an average of 50%, which is then used by Rural District Councils to build infrastructure, increasing access to health care, education and economic opportunity and to pay salaries for local people working in anti-poaching, sustainable agriculture development and other life-sustaining and life-changing enterprises. According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) households in participating communities saw their incomes increase between 15% and 25%, a significant amount anywhere, but especially in a country consistently ranked as among the world’s poorest.
The CAMPFIRE program has also had a positive impact on elephants. Because of the economic incentives and drivers created by trophy hunting, approximately 83,000 elephants roam Zimbabwe today inside and outside Protected Areas, making the country home to the 2nd largest elephant population in Africa and the whole World. Of these, less than 1% are killed by trophy hunters each year giving the species room to continue to thrive, whilst the mean annual population growth is at 4.5%. Trophy hunters hunt old lone male elephants that are not part of breeding herds.
To the north, in Kenya, which banned all hunting in 1976, officers with the Kenya Wildlife Service have amassed a long record of suspected human rights abuses. These include extrajudicial executions and opening fire on unarmed protestors, killing 1 and wounding 12, who took to the streets after KWS officers allegedly kidnapped and killed 3 people. While some may argue these draconian measures are necessary to protect Kenya’s elephants and other wildlife, the fact remains that since the hunting ban went into effect, the nation has lost 70% of its native wildlife according to published papers in peer reviewed journals. (Ogutu et al, 2016)
The experience is clear that what follows hunting bans or suspensions is not the peaceful Eden sold by their advocates but rather increases in violence coupled with decreases in civil rights, economic mobility and decimation of wildlife populations. In an Africa of 1.2 billion people with rapidly emerging national economies, centrist policies that view people as part of the natural world embrace the sustainable use of biodiversity, and recognise trophy hunting as an indispensable partner of photo tourism, have proven themselves capable of delivering both healthy wildlife populations and human dignity. The United States should use its position and its institutions to further such policies or further risk losing its reputation as the international champion of liberty and justice.
Zimbabwe wishes to thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service for their highly professional approach on executing a technically robust process which took nearly 3 yrs. Even though there were losses recorded by the conservation industry in Zimbabwe from anticipated revenues for anti-poaching and community development during the 2014-2016 period, we appreciate they needed to be thorough in the process. Following the positive determination and subsequent lifting of the trophy hunting import ban into the USA, Zimbabwe remains committed to the implementation of our Elephant Management Plan and we invite partners to join hands with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority on a mission to continue conserving Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage for the benefit of present and future generations.