The 3rd of March marks World Wildlife Day. The commemoration is a reminder of the same day in 1973 when one of the critical treaties concerning the conservation of animals worldwide was adopted. The treaty is known as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES seeks to control the trade across borders of the specimen of endangered flora and fauna. The convention came after a realisation of the importance of wildlife as part of the natural systems of the earth as well as the need to encourage international cooperation for the protection of certain species of animal and plant life against over-exploitation through international trade.
In Zimbabwe, the commemoration comes at a time when our governance system has problems in terms of the way CITES is construed. For instance, Zimbabwe has been in the books mostly due to controversial decisions; for instance, the export of live baby elephants to zoos in China. The exporting is problematic for several reasons; there are no strict safeguards that the same elephants will be treated appropriately when they get to Asia. The removal of baby elephants from their families also negatively affects the well-being of these species. This finding was reached by psychologists Professor Karen McComb and Dr Graeme Shannon of the University of Sussex. They discovered that human activities like relocation and culling of elephants have long term negative impacts upon these animals. These findings are published in an article titled ‘Effects of social disruption in elephants persist decades after culling’, in a 2013 issue of the Frontiers in Zoology journal. To add to these problems that hinder our society from looking after our wildlife better, there is hardly publicly accessible information to on elephants as well as other wildlife population statistics in Zimbabwe. The absence of such information leads to an opaque decision-making process on State wildlife resources. The role of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe falls into the hands of several stakeholders. The principal institution statutorily tasked with conservation of wildlife is the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks). The Parks and Wildlife Act [Chapter 20:14] outlines this position. Zimparks’ role and structures including the appointment of its Director-General and the requirements for dealing with wildlife are also provided for in the same Act.
In addition to Zimparks, there are several institutions as well as non-governmental environmental organisations that also play a vital role in the conservation of wildlife. These roles range from advocacy, research, public interest environmental litigation to the conduction of various campaigns and projects for the conservation of wildlife. These institutions include the Forestry Commission which is responsible for designated forests in terms of the Forest Act [Chapter 19:05]. In communal areas, rural district councils have a role in environmental conservation as stipulated by the Rural District Councils Act [Chapter 29:13]. The latter have been instrumental in the implementation of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). On the non-governmental side, a few conservation-oriented organisations exist in Zimbabwe. The ones that come to mind include the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Environment Africa, Birdlife, Tikki Hywood Foundation and the International Anti-Poaching Foundation (IAFA) of the all-women ranger Akashinga Group fame. There are also non-profit environmental law organisations such as Speak Out For Animals (SOFA) and the People and Earth Solidarity Law Network (PESLawyers). In the private sector, there are institutions such as Kuimba Shiri Bird Sanctuary, Save Conservancy and Mukuvisi Woodlands Nature Reserve and Environmental Education Centre among others. It is important to note however that even the welfare of wildlife on private land is placed in the hands of ZimParks though.
Wildlife Conservation and Access to Information
Access to information is one of the critical elements in environmental law and oversight over the conservation of animals. Environmental and access to information laws in Zimbabwe provide for that right. Of note is Section 4 (1) (b) (ii) of the Environmental Management Act [Chapter20:27]. The Act provides that ‘Every person shall have a right to access to environmental information and protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations and to participate in the implementation of the promulgation of reasonable legislative, policy and other measures that secure ecologically sustainable management and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.’ In that regard, it is to be expected that bodies such as ZimParks should avail information to the Public over their decision to, for instance, export baby elephants or to auction Zimbabwean wildlife as ‘hunting bags’ or ‘packaged hunts’ whatever that means. The People and Earth Solidarity Law Network has since written to the Director-General of Zimparks seeking clarification and requesting for such information in the public interests and the interests of conservation of animals as outlined in the Parks and Wildlife Management Act and the Environmental Management Act.
Wildlife and the political economy of survival
The economic challenges that have confronted Zimbabwe in the past decades have heard their toll on both people and wildlife. For instance, there were reports of food and medication shortages for animals and non-payment of salaries for game rangers. The biting economic challenges also drive communal people into poaching for subsistence purposes and hardcore poachers hunting wildlife for commercial and often illegal reasons.
Considering such challenges concerning Zimparks, it becomes worrisome for environmentalists, conversations and other concerned stakeholders when they aspire to see adequate conservation of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.
There have been reports that ZimParks usually resorts to operating on a survival mode, that is when animals are killed solely to ensure that rangers get fed. This consumption of animals by the same wildlife protectors is a formula that has been cleverly solved by the International Anti-Poaching Taskforce Akashinga Group where rangers must be vegan to ensure that in saving one animal; they do not go on to eat the next.
The way Forward
Since it is World Wildlife Day, there is a need to come with a way forward. The current situation in Zimbabwe calls for environmental justice organisations and others to continue to play their watchdog role in defence of environmental and wildlife rights. This role is critical since the well-being of wildlife resources is undoubtedly in the public interest.
Access to environmental information is critical. Hence the public and concerned stakeholders have the constitutional and statutory right to be informed of environmental decisions.
The health of the economy can also not be overemphasised. When the economy is in the doldrums, people tend to chase money at the expense of anything else. Hence wildlife is then seen in terms of monetary value even by the state wildlife management departments. The value of wildlife for cultural, aesthetic or other non-commercial purposes are overlooked. It is critical to adopt a value system that sees living wildlife as a critical part of the earth or at least as sensitive species that can suffer trauma and pain.
The duty to demand environmental accountability does not fall on environmental non -profits and conservation groups only. It is the role of every person who is entitled to environmental rights in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as well as the Parks and Wildlife Management Act and the Environmental Management Act.
Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is an environmental lawyer and Executive Director of the People and Earth Solidarity Law Network (PESLawyers), a non-profit environmental law and policy organisation based in Harare, Zimbabwe. Email: email@example.com. Web: www.peslawyers.org