By Masimba Gomo
Harare -The Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) says it has petitioned the United States’ government to lift the ban on importation of sport hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe as a way to enhance the survival of the specie.
The ban was arbitrarily imposed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on April 4, 2014.
The African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA), a domestic law for that country.
The special rule includes specific requirements for the import of sport-hunted trophies, including making requirements for ivory.
In order for FWS to authorize the import of a sport-hunted elephant trophy, the FWS must be “confident” that the killing of the animal whose trophy is intended for import into the US would not deplete the specie.
CAMPFIRE Association (CA) managing director Charles Jonga said the programme benefits both conservation and communities to the tune of around $2 million annually.
“CA has provided information on how income from hunting has benefitted communities and elephant conservation, and has formally requested US authorities to reverse this decision,” Jonga said.
“CA has also been engaged in administrative advocacy, and participated in several meetings with the US Fish and Wildlife Service officials, the US State Department, US Department of the Interior, and US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations officials.”
Jonga said the meetings were facilitated by Safari Club International (SCI), a pro-hunting body in Washington, DC.
“CA has also provided affidavits in support of litigation against the US authorities by SCI. The case is still pending. Information provided has helped demonstrate FWS errors and disregard for hunting and community benefits. CA is also confronting animal rights’ attempts to interfere with our programme through distortion of facts on community benefits,” he said.
CAMPFIRE is premised on the conservation of wildlife and other natural resources as a livelihood option for rural communities in marginal areas of the Southern African nation.
At its inception in the late 1980s, CAMPFIRE became a pioneer of Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) and sustainable utilization of wildlife and other natural resources in communal areas.
Fifty-eight out of a total of 60 of the country’s administrative districts are members of the programme under the Constitution of the CA.
Jonga said the embargo by the US government had technically expired, following failure by the US authorities to make an announcement of its review of the ban before the end of December 2015 as previously promised.
“It is possible that some US citizens may still be booking elephant hunts in Zimbabwe, with the intention of importing their trophies into the US at a later date if the ban is not extended.
However, the authorisation of such imports in the future cannot be guaranteed, as the US government is yet to announce its position regarding imports for 2015,” he said.
Sustainable good quality trophy hunting, he said, has made CAMPFIRE resilient in the absence of donor support, and directly funded activities such as training of game scouts and community awareness on wildlife management.
“The loss of this income stream will certainly increase the loss of confidence by communities in wildlife management, and consequently threaten tolerance and survival of the elephant in communal areas.
“Community antipathy to wildlife and the reciprocal costs to wildlife is set to increase, especially through retaliatory killing or self-help problem animal control (PAC), and commercial poaching to feed international syndicates,” Jonga said.
CAMPFIRE, Jonga said, is disillusioned with the fact that rather than the suspension of elephant trophy imports into the US “enhancing” the survival of the species, communities in search of better livelihoods will more likely than ever before succumb to the temptation to open up more land for rain-fed agriculture in areas generally unsuitable for cropping, leading to massive land degradation. The programme has been actively involved in elephant hunting for more than 20 years, and exports of elephant trophies to the US have occurred at least since 1997, when the Zimbabwe elephant population, along with populations in Botswana and Namibia, was down-listed to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CAMPFIRE has significantly influenced and contributed to similar models throughout Southern Africa where CBNRM is now generally accepted and practiced.
While other country’s programmes are donor funded, CAMPFIRE is not, and it was last donor funded in 2003.