Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority would like to announce to its valued stakeholders and the people of Zimbabwe that the Authority has successfully exported 35 African elephant from Hwange National Park to China on the 23rd of December 2016. This was done after a team from Zimparks and a chief inspector from Zimbabwe National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA) travelled to China to inspect the facilities and conditions under which the elephants were going to live. The team visited and assessed Shanghai Exhibition Park, Beijing Wildlife Park and Hangzhou Wildlife Park. Zimparks was satisfied that the translocation process could go ahead. CITES and national rules and regulations pertaining to the live sales were religiously followed. The process of crating and ground transport and loading of elephants into the air cargo was monitored and observed by various stakeholders who comprised national security agencies and Zimbabwe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (ZSPCA). Destinations for any live sales undergo thorough suitability assessments, a pre-requisite for CITES, before any translocations occur and follow ups are made to any destinations to ensure compliance to international best practice. Throughout the process, the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was involved. The 35 elephants that were translocated to China were escorted as per CITES requirements by a wildlife specialist, wildlife veterinarian and elephant keeper.
Translocation of elephants from highly concentrated areas to other local national parks is an ongoing process and is in line with the current national elephant management strategy. Relocation to other areas will be done in phases. First phase will focus on Sebungwe region which has such protected areas as Chizarira National Park and Chirisa Safari Area. Assessment of some of the areas have been done in terms of ecological and security requirements.
It is not a secret that the exercises to translocate wildlife is capital intensive, thus requires funding. Zimbabwe believes that wildlife conservation should pay for itself. Live sales of elephants to international destinations are done to generate financial resources for conservation programmes. It is also not a secret that Zimbabwe has been slammed with trade restrictions on hunted trophies of some wildlife species and raw ivory that make it almost difficult to utilise our wildlife to fund conservation. We are therefore turning to friendly countries to extract value out of our wildlife. Zimbabwe, unlike other countries has a unique wildlife conservation funding system in that no amount is budgeted for conservation in the national budget.Zimbabwe has an elephant population of over 83000 which is the second highest in Africa and the greatest population in the North-West Matabeleland. Hwange National Park is carrying over 45000 elephants against an ecological carrying capacity of 15000.Gonarezhou National Park is one of the areas that is over populated by elephants and is carrying a population which is above 11 000 individuals against an ecological carrying capacity of around 5 000. This is an indication of the country’s best elephant management programme. However these figures, in Hwange National Park, indicate what is termed localised overabundance. This scenario has led to severe ecological damage that has affected other wildlife species. The high elephant population results in severe environmental degradation, loss of bio-diversity and increased competition for scarce resources resulting in some elephants being pushed to the peripheries of the Park, a situation that increases their vulnerability to poaching and also heightens human wildlife conflict. The cost per unit area to manage such animals particularly protection and water provision has escalated dramatically as the elephant population increases. .
To manage the ever increasing elephant population, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has embarked on a population reduction exercise which seeks to reduce elephant populations in Hwange National Park. Three options exist on how to manage the elephant population: Culling, translocations to low population regions and conducting live sales. The option of culling has not been considered because there is little or no value that will be extracted from the elephants.
The Zambezi Valley and Sebungwe Regions are two of the elephant ranges that have experienced declining elephant populations. The major reason for such declines include human encroachment into wildlife zones resulting in habitat loss; increased poaching. Elephant management plans have been crafted and are being implemented to address these challenges being faced in elephant conservation. As a result priority to restock will be focussed on these two regions.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has gone on a recruitment drive to increase coverage of the regions, in such areas as North West Matabeleland, where we have the highest number, and the Sebungwe Region where elephants will be relocated in the near future. Thus enhancing protection of wildlife. Education and awareness programmes are being rolled out to communities in an effort towards making communities value wildlife. Increased intelligence gathering has also been instituted through recruitment of intelligence details as well as increased international cooperation through structures such as Interpol to ensure timeous information gathering to fight wildlife crimes. The CAMPFIRE programme is also undergoing a revamp to ensure that communities realise maximum value from wildlife thus incentivising their protection. All these interventions are being done as a precursor to reintroducing wildlife, particularly elephants in these major elephant ranges. It would be futile to immediately restock the other ranges through translocating before addressing the root causes of the elephant and other wildlife species decline. In the short term there will be translocations to the Sebungwe and Zambezi Valley in a phased process.