Zimbabwe’s elephant culling plan sparks controversy

Harare, Zimbabwe The number of elephants in Africa has been declining dangerously-but not in Zimbabwe.

Authorities in this southern African country estimate that its number of mammoth mammals is currently slightly more than 100,000 — higher than the 84,000 at the time of the previous census in 2014 — with a carrying capacity of approximately 45,000.

The surplus has prompted the government in recent weeks to consider mass killing of elephants — the last time the country did so in 1988 — as an option for population control to protect other wildlife and the country’s vegetation.

Tinashe Farawo, a spokesperson for the ZimParks Bureau of Parks and Wildlife, told Al Jazeera: “In this country, we have too many elephants.”

Authorities believe that the increasing number of elephants will cause habitat destruction, thereby posing a threat to other animals, and also leading to an increase in dangerous interactions between humans and wild animals. In recent years, dozens of people have died.

“We have vultures that breed on trees. Vultures no longer breed in Hwange (National Park); they moved to other places because elephants have a habit of cutting trees,” Faravor said.

He pointed out that the plan is still in the “formation stage” and has not yet made a final decision, but emphasized that Zimbabwe’s law allows for culling.

Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe has at least 45,000 elephants [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

However, the Center for Natural Resources Management (CNRG), Zimbabwe’s environmental and human rights monitoring agency that records poaching, opposed the plan.

“Culling will eventually lead to the extinction of these elephants,” spokesman Simisomlev told Al Jazeera.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “Soon, we will be forced to go to other countries just to see an elephant.”

Earlier this year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified African forest elephants as “critically endangered” and African savanna elephants as “endangered” on the grounds that the surge in poaching and the decline in populations have led to habitat loss.

According to the latest assessment of the Swiss-based organization, the number of African forest elephants has fallen by more than 86% in 31 years. At the same time, the number of African savanna elephants has decreased by at least 60% in the past half century.

Zimbabwe has the second largest elephant population on the African continent, after Botswana, and accounts for one-third of the remaining 415,000 elephants in Africa.

other options

In addition to culling, another option considered by the Zimbabwean authorities is to move elephants from populated areas. But both are hampered by lack of funds, Falavor said.

“This is an expensive process, and now we have no money,” he added. “In 2018, we moved 100 elephants, and this sport cost us US$400,000.”

Farawo said that the government agency ZimParks needs at least $25 million a year for its operations. But since 2001, the agency has not received any funding from the government in Zimbabwe, which is short of funds.

Farawa said that his organization needs income to protect the elephants, but the country’s tourism industry has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and its financial situation has been hit hard in 2020.

In late April, Zimbabwe stated that it planned to sell hunting permits to kill 500 elephants in order to generate income. Depending on the size of the elephant, the trophy hunter is expected to pay between 10,000 and 70,000 US dollars.

According to Faravo, the hunting quota for 500 elephants is separate from the culling plan, which is permitted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). He said that “elephans must pay for maintenance.”

“Elephants must also take care of themselves, so we must be allowed to trade to achieve this,” Faravor said.

“[This] It means that money must be generated, and the income comes from elephants. Now the tourism industry is dead, so people will not come to see elephants. “

But CNRG’s Mlevu said that the culling would affect the tourism industry-a view that was endorsed by the famous Zimbabwean economist John Robertson.

“It caused severe damage to wildlife,” Robertson told Al Jazeera. “The loss of wildlife will also reduce the prospects for the tourism industry on which the country is heavily dependent.”

Audrey Delsink, Director of International Humane Society/African Wildlife, said the killing of elephants “has a traumatic impact on the remaining population.” She said that it is for this reason that South African authorities have adopted contraception as an option for population control.

Delsinke pointed out that 76% of African elephant populations cross national borders. He told Al Jazeera: “Management actions taken on an incorrect scale can have huge consequences and chain reactions that go far beyond the target area, region or population.

“Therefore, Zimbabwe’s management choices may have devastating consequences for short-lived elephants. The situation in Zimbabwe seems to be not so much the number of elephants, as it is to provide funds for the management authorities-elephants are only achieving this goal. A means.”

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About the Author: Agnes Zang