By Kudzai Kuwaza
The ban on the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe for the 2014 hunting season in April by the United States government was premature and will have a damaging effect on the tourism sector.
In a statement USFWS said: “The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies taken in Tanzania and Zimbabwe during the 2014 calendar 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. 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.”
The Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (Soaz) chairman Emmanuel Fundira revealed in a recent interview that the ban would affect 65% of the market which is from the Americas including North and South America.
“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 added this meant massive loss of income for the sector which is still trying to find its feet after years of economic decline and the after effects of the negative perception of the country characterised by travel warnings on the country by several countries including Japan, Germany and the United States.
It will also deplete government coffers as well as increase unemployment.
The devastating impact sadly does not end there.
On the line are the livelihood of 800 000 families under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire), a community-based natural resource management programme in which rural district councils, on behalf of communities on communal land, are granted the authority to market access to wildlife in their district to safari operators.
Fundira led a delegation to the United States last month to have the decision rescinded and met various government officials including Secretary of State John Kerry.
The group comprised Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Edson Chidziya, Campfire director Charles Jonga, Zimbabwean Professional Hunters and Guides Association chairman Louis Muller and wildlife consultant Rowan Martin.
“Zimbabwe can support at most about 50 000 elephants on the land available in the country. The effects of exceeding the ecological carrying capacity for elephants are glaringly evident — habitats are being destroyed, carrying capacity for wildlife in general is being reduced and elephants are dying of poverty. An ecological disaster is imminent. We have to ask the question, ‘what benchmark has the USFWS used to define a decline’,” the delegation argued.
“The statement by the USFWS that 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 demonstrates an ignorance of the biological impact of trophy hunting. Quotas for trophy hunting are negligible in biological terms and have no effect on the rate of increase of elephant populations.”
Fundira said they expect a response to their petition sometime next month.
Chris Chiparaushe, the group general manager of Dunhu Ramambo, the holding company for Chengeta and Pamuzinda Safari lodges and Umbozha Houseboats believes the United States agency should have consulted before imposing the ban.
Chiparaushe said there should more stringent measures put in place to fight poaching that led to the poisoning of more than 300 elephants late last year.
The government on the other hand is waiting for the response by the US before deciding on the next course of action.
“We are worried as the ban represents a loss of revenue,” Tourism minister Walter Mzembi said. “However the matter resides between my ministry and the Ministry of Environment and it will be prudent to allow efforts being made by the relevant associations to yield something before we can take the next step.”
Economist Eric Bloch said there was need for agencies such as the USFWS to be more flexible in their policies which were “too rigid”.
He said there must be a difference between the trade of ivory legitimately obtained which should be freely tradable, from that obtained through illegal means such as poaching.
He said negotiations with the agencies should be constructive and lead to a change in policy “with immediate effect”.
Bloch said the import ban would severely minimise foreign currency receipts at a time the country is suffering from a debilitating liquidity crunch.