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Zimbabwe battles poaching headache


Zim battles poaching headache

Brian Chitemba  Investigations Editor
FOR decades, poaching has been a thorny issue for Zimbabwe and many other African countries. The rampant illegal killing of big game is threatening the survival of several species; and wildlife crime is on the rise due to an increased demand for illegally acquired ivory.
Poaching is rife in national parks such as Hwange, Gonarezhou, Save Conservancy and the Zambezi Valley – all home to over 84 500 elephants.
However, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says illegal killing of key wildlife species such as elephants and rhinos has been on the decline between 2015 and 2016.
According to the Parks Authority, Zimbabwe lost 439 tonnes of ivory worth US$226 million between 2002 and 2014 to illegal hunting as a direct result of the 1989 ivory trade ban by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
In 2015, the country lost ivory worth an estimated US$3,2 million to poaching.
“The price of ivory has risen since the ban on international trade came into place in 1989 and Bradley-Martin & Vigne (2014) noted that it had increased three-fold in China since 2010. Zimbabwe presently holds about 70 tonnes of raw ivory in the government ivory store estimated to be worth about US$35 million if it were sold on open auctions,” says the Parks Authority.
Zimbabwe argues that legal trade in ivory could effectively deal with poaching because “without it, elephants are likely to become extinct”.
The ZPWMA says the ivory trade will be transparent through open auction as what happened between 1977 and 1989.
“The ivory trade ban has been a failure. Cites has had 27 years to evaluate the experiment and, far from the ban being part of the solution to illegal elephant killing in Africa, it must be seen as part of the problem,” reads part of a report by ZPWMA.
Despite the authorities’ fight against poaching, illegal hunters remain a menace in the Zambezi Valley and on Kanyemba Island on the Zambezi River.
The area from Kariba to Chirundu all the way through to Cabora Bassa in Mozambique is under serious threat from local and international poaching syndicates.
According to Parks Authority acting director-deneral Mr Geoffreys Matipano, at least 12 elephants were killed, mostly by Zambian poachers in 2016.
The anti-poaching fight is hampered by a dispute between Zimbabwe and Zambia over control of Kanyemba Island.
“… the international boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia is along the Zambezi River, and it needs continuous joint reaffirmation by the two countries,” said Mr Matipano.
“The illegal killing of elephants in the Zambezi Valley is being done by both foreign and local poachers. In this area, wildlife protection requires the cooperation between Zimbabwe and Zambia since the two countries are sharing a mobile resource, wildlife.
“…For example two elephants were poached last year on an island that is under the process of boundary reaffirmation. As part of the wildlife protection strategy, the two countries are working together and sharing information on the protection of wildlife in the Zambezi Valley.
“The sharing of information includes counter strategies to illegal cross border movements, trafficking of wildlife products and weapons that are being used in poaching of wildlife. In 2016 we lost a total of 12 elephants to foreign poachers in the Zambezi Valley.”
Mr Matipano said with support of Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, NGOs and the community, the fight to protect Zimbabwe’s wildlife is bearing fruit. But The Sunday Mail has gathered that Zambian poachers are wreaking havoc along the Zambezi Valley as they are driving animals across the border before slaughtering them.
Apart from targeting elephants, the poachers are also illegally harvesting fish, birds and other wildlife.
“There are no animals on the Zambian side, hence the foreign poachers use boats to cross the Zambezi River to illegal kill animals especially elephants.
“Even baboons have run away from the Zambian side to our side (Zimbabwe) due to poaching. Sometimes elephants tend to move deep into the forests far away from where tourists can easily see them as a result of poaching,” said Mr James Sithole of the Mudzimu area in Chirundu.
The Zambian embassy in Harare requested questions in writing but did not respond to them by the time of going to print.
The Sunday Mail has also gathered that harvesting of crocodile eggs on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi is rising. The eggs are incubated and the crocodiles reared for their skins as they are preferred over those produced on farms.
Like ivory, crocodile products are reportedly being illegally exported to Asia. Since poaching syndicates are controlled by powerful and sophisticated gangs, it requires a consolidated effort from stakeholders to stem the problem. Globally, poaching and wildlife trafficking are highly lucrative businesses estimated to earn between US$23 billion and US$47 billion yearly.
They are jointly ranked fourth on the list of large-scale illegal trade worldwide after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
Rampant poaching has gone on for years in Zimbabwe with over 300 elephants killed via cyanide poisoning in Hwange and Matusadona National Park, Kariba in the last two years.
Elephant tusks have a huge market in Asia, especially in China and Hong Kong where several ivory consignments from Zimbabwe have been intercepted.
The Sunday Mail understands that on South Africa’s black market, a set of tusks can fetch between US$16 000 and US$20 000. A report by the Parks Authority reads, “Illegal hunting is by far the biggest proximate threat to elephants in the Sebungwe and Zambezi Valley but, in the longer term, the high densities in Matableleland North and the Gonarezhou ultimately pose an equally serious threat. The overabundance of elephants could result in whole-scale population die-offs and, at the same time, the destruction of habitats will jeopardise the survival of other species.”
The authority argues that the Cites ban on ivory trade has removed incentives for local communities to conserve elephants.
“Many parks are now surrounded by hostile rural people who are trying to recover their wasted investment in elephants. An open trade might reverse the situation and address the corruption that the ban has spawned.”

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