The unlawful allocation of hunting licenses in Zimbabwe in recent years has been pegged as a major factor in the decision by the United States to ban hunted elephant trophies.
The US wildlife department announced last week that it was suspending the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, citing questionable management practices and a lack of effective law enforcement.
In a statement on its website, the US wildlife department 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."
It added: "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 ban comes of the back of the poaching crisis that hit Hwange National Park last year, where hundreds of elephants were killed by poachers using the deadly cyanide chemical. The ban also comes amid a fresh threat to Zimbabwe's protected Presidential Elephant Herd, after the takeover of a piece of land in Hwange that serves as the herd's home range.
That takeover defies a Cabinet directive from last year that the land was 'state owned' and all offer letters for it must be withdrawn. Conservation groups meanwhile have raised concern for the safety of the Presidential elephants, because the woman who has claimed the land is related to a local hunting operator.
Johnny Rodrigues, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) told SW Radio Africa that the ZANU PF government's history of illegally handing out land claims and hunting permits to party officials and loyalists means the entire hunting business in Zimbabwe has fallen into disrepute. The ZCTF warned that in recent months hunting permits have been handed out along the lines of the country's indigenisation laws. Rodrigues said this leads to untrained, unregulated hunting operators acting in an unsustainable manner.
"A lot of hunters do hunting in an ethical manner, and they plow a lot back into conservation. But the uncontrollable way in which a person who has no experience in hunting, suddenly gets issued permits to have hunting, is a real problem," Rodrigues said.
National Parks in 2012 year issued hunting permits to 25 so-called indigenous 'farmers' who were given land in the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy in the Lowveld. This was said to be part of the government's 'wildlife based land reform' exercise, saying beneficiaries have been allocated 25-year land leases in conservancies throughout the Masvingo province.
Included in the list of beneficiaries were top ZANU PF officials and loyalists, including war vets leader Joseph Chinotimba, Major General Gibson Mashingaidze, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, then ZANU PF Masvingo provincial chair Lovemore Matuke, then Deputy Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora, ZANU PF's central committee member Enock Porusingazi, as well as ZANU PF MPs Alois Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri and Noel Mandebvu.
ZANU PF's Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere has since likened the US ban on Zim elephant trophies to "sanctions on the elephants".
Rodrigues said this position was hardly surprising, because top party officials are involved in the majority of hunting operations across the country.
"For years the very wealthy people in America have been coming to Zim to hunt, and then you have the top dogs in Zimbabwe who own most of the hunting concessions, and they're going to feel the pinch now and they can't be as greedy as they were," Rodrigues said.
He meanwhile added that things like photographic tourism would be of more benefit to Zimbabwe in the long term.
"If we had the tourism coming into the country, it would generate ten times the amount that hunting generates," Rodriques said.