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Humans · Nature

Is southern Africa being punished for success of its wildlife conservation efforts?

July 17th, 2019
topics:Humans, Nature
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia
tags:Africa, environment, poaching, wildlife

Jaison Chauke, a 66-year old villager in the Chilonga area of Zimbabwe’s south-eastern district of Chiredzi, is an angry man. At least once a month, he has to raise $100 to pay fine for his herd of 15 cattle that regularly stray into the nearby game reserve in desperate search of pastures.

Villagers in the area – who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the game reserve in the 1940s – continually pull down the fence separating the villages and the game park to allow their starving livestock access into the pastures inside the game park.

“ZimParks (The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority) should remove their fence because it keeps our livestock from the only pastures in this area, or it should allow our cattle to freely graze in the park, because we no longer have any grazing land due to drought”, Chauke said.

The vandalised fence, in turn, allows wild animals to invade villages, destroying crops, killing and maiming people and their livestock.

But villagers from the drought-stricken area remain adamant that the fence be removed to allow their livestock access to the pastures into Gonarezhou National Park and bitterly complain that the $2 fine a day charged by the parks authority on each beast that strays into the park is not just exorbitant, but also morally unjustifiable. They ask, why does the government prioritise wild animals over them?

“We do not see any benefits from these animals… if anything it is these animals that have made us this poor as our government gives them priority over us”, Chauke added.

The Gonarezhou National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Trans Frontier Park that amalgamates Limpopo National Park, Gonarezhou and Kruger National Park of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa respectively.

On the Western part of Zimbabwe is the even bigger Hwange National Park, which is part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), a regional wildlife sanctuary made up of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Angola.

The result of the conversation efforts of these southern African countries has been an exponential growth in wildlife numbers. Growing alongside it has been the populations of these countries, resulting in increased cases of human-wildlife conflicts like those described above.

Confronted with strident accusations similar to those that Chauke makes against the government of Zimbabwe, the leaders of the southern African nations facing the growing problem of human-wildlife conflict have met twice inside three months this year to look for ways of ensuring that their success in the area of wildlife conversation does not turn out to be a curse to the local communities.

In March, the leaders of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia met in Botswana for the Kasane Elephant Summit where they discussed their common problem of the growing burden of elephant overpopulation.

These countries, with the largest herds of elephants and other wild animals in the world because of their robust conservation efforts, say by being denied the right to trade in the products of some of these animals under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), they are in effect being punished for the success of their efforts.

The Southern African countries have always argued that animal rights groups are notorious for exercising authority without responsibility within the CITES framework by controversially endorsing the international ban on ivory trade as the solution to elephant poaching. The countries are seeking controlled and sustainable international trade in ivory and other wildlife products.

“It startles and bamboozles me when people sit in the comfort of where they come from and lecture us about the management of the species they don’t have”, fumed Botswana’s new President Mokgweetsi Masisi, whose country – at 130,000 – has the largest elephant population in the world. “They want to admire from a distance and in the admiration of those species, they forget that we too are a part of the human species. They talk as if we are the trees and grass that the elephants feed on.”

Shortly after the summit, Botswana announced that it was lifting a ban on trophy hunting.

In late June, Zimbabwe hosted another wildlife summit where the issue of trade in wildlife products dominated. Zimbabwe, with its 84,000 elephants, has the world’s second largest herd, which is four times the country’s carrying capacity.

“We have encountered – and are still going through – a lot of problems because elephants in our country are overpopulated, and they are now competing for resources with people”, explained Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo. “In areas like Hwange, where the largest population of elephants is found, there is no water and that area depends on 100% borehole water.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is also keen to see trade in elephant products.

“Currently, Zimbabwe has about US$600 million worth of ivory and rhino horns stocks, most of which is from natural attrition of those animals. If we are allowed to dispose of the same under agreed to parameters, the revenue derived would suffice to finance our operational conservation efforts for the next 20 years”, he said.

A report by a University of Botswana academic, Professor Joseph Mbaiwa, on the effects of the hunting ban suggested that the ban was not informed by any scientific evidence.

“After the hunting ban, communities were forced to shift from hunting to photographic tourism. Reduced tourism benefits have led to the development of negative attitudes by rural residents towards wildlife conservation and the increase in incidences of poaching in Northern Botswana”, Mbaiwa said.

“The implications of the hunting ban suggest that policy shifts that affect wildlife conservation and rural livelihoods need to be informed by socio-economic and ecological research. This participatory and scientific approach to decision-making has the potential to contribute sustainability of livelihoods and wildlife conservation in Botswana”, he added.

The human-wildlife conflict have not been made better by climate change which continues reduce productive land thereby increasing potential for conflict.

“We live in a weird world that lacks both conservation and economic logic,.”, said Paul Stephens, a pro-consumption supporter. “Any economist knows that a ban on any commodity increases its demand and price. This is happening in Botswana dramatically right now. It has been happening throughout Africa as long as the ban in international trade in ivory has been in force.”

He said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) African Elephant Specialist Group recently reported that the total African elephant population has dropped by approximately 111,000 to 415,000 in the past 10 years. “This is happening while the international ban on ivory trade has been in force, meaning that it is failing to stop elephant poaching”, Stephens added.

For more wildlife related content, why not read our article on how to increase the rhino population.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
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Embed from Getty Images
Villagers in the area – who were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the game reserve in the 1940s – continually pull down the fence separating the villages and the game park to allow their starving livestock access into the pastures inside the game park.
Embed from Getty Images
“ZimParks (The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority) should remove their fence because it keeps our livestock from the only pastures there is in this area."
Embed from Getty Images
“We do not see any benefits from these animals… if anything it is these animals that have made us this poor as our government gives them priority over us.”

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