By Kudzai Kuwaza
The ban of the importation of sport hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe for the 2014 hunting season in April by the United States government will have devastating effects on the country’s hunting season, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (Soaz) has said.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe during the calendar 2014 year.
“In Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicates a significant decline in the elephant population. Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe’s elephants are also under siege,” the organisation said.
“Given the current situation on the ground in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the Service is unable to make positive findings required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and the Endangered Species Act to allow import of elephant trophies from these countries.
“Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.”
Soaz chairman Emmanuel Fundira told businessdigest in an interview on Wednesday that most of the country’s visitors who came for sport hunting were attracted by the prospect of hunting the full complement of the big five which are the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino.
The absence of the elephant trophy, Fundira said, would discourage sport hunting lovers from coming to the country, making the sector uncompetitive.
Fundira said 65% of the market came from the Americas which include North and South America, indicating the extent of the damage caused by the ban.
“When 65% of the market starts coughing it actually tells you that there is an imminent collapse of the whole industry because you cannot make it survive on 35%,” Fundira said. “The projections for this year are depressing.”
He said this meant massive loss of income for government as well as unemployment and loss of value for the tourism sector.
Fundira said the ban would negatively impact the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire), a community-based natural resource management programme in which Rural District Councils, on be- half of communities on communal land, are granted the authority to market access to wildlife in their district to safari operators.
He said the ban will take away the livelihoods of 800 000 families under the Campfire project. “The reasons for the ban are not convincing, as they are not based on scientific findings.”
He said he had led a delegation to the United States to have the decision rescinded and met various government officials including the Secretary of State John Kerry.
Fundira said US senators would consider their case and expected a response in July.
Even if the decision was rescinded, the recovery from the damage would not be an overnight process, he said.