Elephant Conservation In Zimbabwe

Introduction
Elephant conservation remains one of Zimbabwe's main success stories. Of late due to reason beyond our comprehension this conservation initiative is under spotlight with varied opinions being expressed. This is manifesting itself in form of various misconceptions about the state of elephant conservation in Zimbabwe, including accusations of staff involvement in poaching.


The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority therefore wishes to set the record straight by informing our valued stakeholders of the elephant management programmes on the ground to hopefully stop all the misinformation that is doing the rounds.

Elephant Population Status

The current national population is about 100,000 with an average growth rate of 5% and of this Hwange National Park and its environs alone hold about 50,000 while Mid-Zambezi Valley, Sebungwe and the South East Lowveld hold 30,000, 15,000 and 5,000 respectively. These figures are based on aerial surveys undertaken jointly by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Utilization: non consumptive and consumptive

There are two programmes for the sustainable utilization of elephants in the country : (i) non-consumptive (photographic, elephant rides) and (ii) consumptive  (trophy hunting and management off-take). Consumptive utilization is all based on an approved quota with the exception of problem animal control which is responsive to rogue animals whose numbers annually cannot be predicted.

There is also a deliberate policy to carry out these programmes i.e. consumptive and non consumptive, in isolation of each other recognizing the different clientele ethics involved.

Trophy hunting which annually utilises 500 animals that are declared to CITES each year as 1000 tusks to allow for exportation of trophies takes place in designated places as follows:

•    State hunting safari areas 145 animals

•    Private land mainly conservancies 115 animals

•    CAMPFIRE in communal areas 210 animals and

•    Forestry areas 30 animals

No trophy hunting takes place in National Parks which include Hwange, Gonarezhou, Chizarira, Mana Pools, Matusadona, Kazuma Pan, Zambezi where elephants are found.

The management off take, unlike trophy hunting, takes place in any protected area where elephants occur including the national parks stated above and involves both trophy and non trophy animals but the trophies are not for export in any way. The ivory from such an initiative ends up in central ivory stores at the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Head Quarters properly recorded with a distinct serial number, area of origin, cause and date of mortality and size (length and weight). In order not to change the population structure (age and sex) management off takes are not selective such that trophy animals are also taken but as stated above their ivory is not for export in its raw form. It is sold on the domestic market through regular auctions to registered ivory manufacturers in line with 1997 CITES COP 10 Resolution which allowed Zimbabwe to engage in highly controlled domestic ivory trade.

Management off takes are for ecological reasons to manage surplus animals since elephants at very high densities as is our situation have a high propensity to destroy the very habitat that is the basis for their survival. As they destroy the habitat they also pose serious loss of other biodiversity.

At the moment in Zimbabwe the management off take is utilised for training, staff rations, support for state and other functions, sale to crocodile farmers and where possible live sales for restocking. Meat is also sold cheaply or given freely to communities to supplement their protein requirements.

The management off take involves an approved quota country wide of 1000 animals representing approximately 1% of the population as compared to the 5% annual growth rate stated above. This implies that this off take has no effect whatsoever on the elephant population. Moreover over the years we have never harvested even half of the approved quota.

In April 2007 prior to CITES COP 14 in The Hague SADC Ministers responsible for Wildlife Management approved the Southern Africa Elephant Management Strategy which recognises culling as one of the main tools for effective population control. However, in the event that the Authority needs to undertake culling, all the political, ecological and other considerations including thorough stakeholder consultations would have been met.

At the moment and in preparation for a possible requirement to control elephant population through culling the Authority has embarked on a training exercise for its staff thorough engaging some experienced professional hunters using part of this management quota. This training involves hunting, recovery and processing of elephant products and gathering of scientific data.

However it appears that this training process has not gone down very well with some of our stakeholders resulting in the perception that trophy hunting for commercial purposes is taking place in National Parks. Furthermore accusations of rampart poaching or complicity in poaching by staff have also arisen resulting in staff frustration and low morale.

In response the Authority has deemed it fit to suspend this programme with immediate effect to allow for reviewing of lessons leant in line with adaptive management principles which guide the Authority.

It is important to state that this programme has to go on as rations for and training of staff has to be undertaken if we are to meet our conservation goals. The Authority has also to supply meat to other stakeholders as stated above.

We invite all stakeholders with information on poaching by staff or complicity in poaching to provide such information to the office of the Director General to facilitate any investigations where necessary.

It is our sincere hope that this statement will enlighten our valued stakeholders and help correct the perceptions about this programme. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information regarding the programme.

Dr. M.Z. Mtsambiwa

Director General

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority

Box CY 140, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe

Tel: +263 4 705 344, +263 11 870 160, + 263 912 217 405.

Fax: +263 4 790 567

e-mail: mzmtsambiwa@zimparks.co.zw