By Tawanda Musarurwa – Zimbabwe Herald
Zimbabwe will not pull out of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) as this will hurt the country’s capacity to trade with other members of the convention, Parliament heard Monday. This is notwithstanding that ivory trade is banned by CITES.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Munesu Munodawafa told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism that coming out of CITES was not the best option for Zimbabwe.
“If we pull out of CITES we will not be able to trade with other countries that are in CITES,” he said.
He however, said the current CITES decision on the trading of African elephants was “unfair.”
“To us, it’s an unfair decision that other countries have been allowed to trade their elephants but as Africans, it’s just within the continent.”
Meanwhile, a report presented to Parliament earlier this month by the Committee on Environment and Tourism called on the relevant authorities to expedite the resumption of elephant sales and ivory exports as this will benefit enhance ongoing conservation programmes as well as boost the wider economy.
“Based on the scientific researches currently underway, the Committee recommends the Ministry of Environment, Climate Tourism and Hospitality Industry to lobby other like-minded African countries to negotiate at the next CITES Conferences of Parties for free trade in hunting products as these have a positive impact on the national and local economies of the country by August 2022,” said the Committee in the report.
“Zimbabwe will realise significant revenue from elephant exports, and such revenue can be used to enhance conservation and sustainable wildlife management programs.”
Besides the anticipated economic benefits, the resumption of elephant sales will help the Zimbabwe National Parks (ZimParks) with its conservancy goal in key national parks such as the Hwange National Park.
In recent years, elephant populations have been depleting due to droughts, while some well-wishers like the Sino Zimbabwe Wildlife Foundation have resorted to supplementary feeding, and yet Zimbabwe and many other countries in the region are hamstrung by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) statutes from selling their ivory, whose proceeds they could use in conservation.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism also highlighted the negative effects that have resulted from an uncontrollably rising elephant population in the country.
“The Committee observed the need to maintain numbers or densities of elephants at levels that do not adversely impact on biodiversity conservation goals. Huge elephant populations have the capacity to destroy woody biomass while tree canopy cover can decline in a short space of time.
“An elephant needs a lot of food and water. An elephant consumes up to 200 kilogrammes of plant matter and between 150 to 200 litres of water in a single day. The extent of biodiversity destruction in our national park has already surpassed the sustainable thresholds.
“Parks is in a dilemma. On one hand there is an attempt to protect as many elephants as possible while on the other hand it was grappling with the need to preserve a full range of plant and animal species in protected areas and this was proving to be a nightmare,” highlighted the report.
“What the Committee witnessed underlined the consequences of making single resource decisions, such as preserving all elephants, which can result in multiple resource consequences, for instance, loss of large trees, plant species, and animal diversity.
“The Committee agrees with ZimParks that high elephant densities do not increase eco-tourism opportunities and their associated ecological costs are not a requirement for eco-tourism financial sustainability.”
It is estimated that Zimbabwe has a total elephant population of 80 000, the world’s second largest after Botswana’s 165 000.
For Hwange National Park alone, for instance, the latest census estimates placed Hwange National Park’s elephant population at 53 949, significantly above the park’s ecological carrying capacity of 40 000 elephants.
Last August, the Committee conducted a familiarisation visit to the Hwange and Gonarezhou National Parks, just prior to the 18th edition of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that was held in Switzerland between August 17 and 28, 2019.