Editorial Comment: Captured CITES fast becoming irrelevant

It is the vogue of our time, that Zimbabwe is struggling to fund the upkeep of its elephant population during this menacing drought, yet the country is sitting on huge stockpiles of ivory which it cannot sell, due to statutory restrictions from the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES).

Zimbabwe acceded to CITES in 1981 and since then the country has been struggling to have the organisation understand that it has more elephants than it can sustain and that it can sell selected elephants live, or sell them for sport hunting or straight ivory.

But it has been a struggle, yet the country’s sound wildlife management systems have seen the animal population increase.

It is sad the CITES would rather see the elephants struggle for space and food and die of drought and starvation, than have the country sell them on time and make money. We will not be wrong to say that CITES has been captured and that CITES is fast becoming irrelevant to the elephants’ cause and indeed communities living in constant contact with the elephants.

It is sad that CITES would rather have elephant carcasses rot in Hwange National Park than have the communities around Hwange have the meat.

And, yet we know that communities bear the brunt of the elephants when they overflow the national park boundaries and feed on their crops or even trample the villagers. 

Indeed it is the sad story of our time that through CITES, African nations like Zimbabwe that have an over-population of elephant are blocked from benefiting from the jumbos.

Ecologists say an elephant needs a square kilometre of land to live sustainably and yet Hwange National Park, which is 14 700km2 and should be having 14 000 elephants is currently holding a mammoth 55 000 elephants.

It is fact not fiction that a mature elephant requires an average of 200 litres of water per day. Worse still, Hwange has no natural water source, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has installed solar and diesel-powered pumps that provide about 500 000 litres of water per day. Well this is no mean expense.

It is therefore an affront to animal justice when Zimbabwe is not allowed to make money from the elephant, simply because it is a signatory to CITES.

What is the relevance of CITES if it makes us look helplessly as the same elephant collapse and die of starvation?

What is the meaning of CITES to the villagers around Hwange who are in perpetual conflict with the elephants that cross into their fields and gardens in search of scarce food?

What is the purpose of CITES if its policies perpetuate human-wildlife conflict which we all know has dangerous consequences?

There is need therefore for CITES to be more sensitive to the plight of Zimbabweans. We will not go into the politics that have seen CITES captured by powerful nations of the world.

Going forward, Zimbabwe and its like-minded neighbours should just pull out of CITES. It is not just helping.

If Zimbabwe was allowed to sell its elephants and ivory, it would manage its elephant population through quota setting hunting or culling. The country would get a lot of money that would be channelled to conservation work.

Everything else being normal, international malice aside, Zimbabwe should have been free to sell its ivory and raise money for the drilling of boreholes and for supplementary feeding, among other needs.

Suffice to say, the European narrative that speaks to their superior thinking and management skills while undermining the thinking of Africans who face the elephants every day is bad politics. 

We are aware that some regional countries cannot speak against CITES because they get behind the scenes funding from the powerful nations. We are aware that the United States of America recently bought elephants from regional countries against CITES regulations and no one is raising a finger. When it comes to Zimbabwe the US will harp.

Currently, Zimbabwe is being helped by well-wishers like China Zimbabwe Wildlife Foundation to give supplementary feed to elephants and other wildlife mainly in Mana Pools.

The point is Zimbabwe has now become a basket case in wildlife management yet it could sell its wildlife to sustain itself or at least offset some most of the costs. CITES is captured and CITES is fast becoming irrelevant to our cause.

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