Tendai Rupapa in HWANGE
AFRICAN countries need to put their heads together and avoid the saddening lack of unity they have shown at various international fora, especially the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), where some have gone to the extent of developing proposals against other African countries, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry patron First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa, has said.
This unfortunate phenomenon, she said, could be avoided if nations put their heads together to develop solutions that create win-win situations.
Dr Mnangagwa made the remarks while officially opening the African Elephant Conference which is being held ahead of the upcoming 2022 CITES conference.
Countries that are meeting at the conference are home to 65 percent of the global elephant population and already there are disagreements over whether or not to trim the herd and trade their products like skins and ivory.
Graphic videos were played during the conference showing the extent of the damage brought on the environment by elephants and cases of human-wildlife conflict where the lumbering giants killed people, destroyed their crops and homes.
Dr Mnangagwa, who is also the country’s health ambassador, is always visiting victims of human-wildlife conflict in hospitals to give them moral support and assistance where necessary and the extent of their injuries is usually bad.
She said women, by their nature as givers of life and care-givers, were mostly affected by cases of human-wildlife conflict, hence the need for urgent solution to the challenges.
“As a woman, I am deeply affected the moment my husband is trampled to death by an elephant, the moment my child, be it a boy or a girl, is killed and the moment my neighbour is killed,” she said.
“We need to end these incidents of human-wildlife conflict because they are affecting us more as women, please hear us.
“I am aware as many of you here present that the African elephant is one of the keystone species of the African savannah landscape, the largest terrestrial mammal which shapes the savannah ecosystem. There are indeed significant benefits that we, as mankind, derive from this asset not only in range areas where it is found, but right across the globe.
“Through consumptive and non-consumptive tourism, the positive impact of elephants to social, economic livelihoods and the protection of habitat landscapes has been realised.”
The environment patron said it was well-known that the African region’s success in wildlife conservation was underpinned by the philosophy of sustainable utilisation of natural resources which created incentives to farmers to put their land under wildlife production and conservation.
“As a region, we have a proud history of wildlife conservation since time immemorial . . . Africa will join the rest of the world in advocating for regional and international conservation practices that promote effective, efficient and sustainable protection, utilisation of natural resources and wildlife trade for the benefit of present and future generations and wildlife,” she said.
Natural resource management and wildlife in particular, the First Lady, Dr Mnangagwa said, were now taking centre stage as the need to manage these for posterity and development was becoming more and more fundamental.
“As we celebrated Africa Day yesterday (Wednesday), we surely all must have been reminded of the greater need to foster unity of purpose in Africa among member-states,” she said.
“Unity will enable us to collectively achieve our shared goal of developing our nations.
“This conference provides the range states an opportunity to share experiences and hopefully for our countries to go to COP27 united and prepared to stand up for what works for us. As things stand the Sadc member states hold among them over 75 percent of the world’s elephant population.
“To any fair-minded person that should mean what the region is doing is good and relevant for the management, conservation and propagation of these keynote species.”
Wildlife, the environment and tourism patron observed, was part of Africa’s natural heritage and it had to be managed and used for sustainable national and community development.
She decried the poaching menace spearheaded by sophisticated international syndicates preying on the vulnerability of poor communities.
“In certain instances, poaching has become a serious national security threat. Yet in some countries and regions conservation has become a burden beyond the poaching menace,” she said. “I believe we are facing the huge challenges that are related to conserving elephants and the quest to continue co-existing with this charismatic species.
“Human-wildlife conflicts have escalated because of changes in land use, reduced prey base for carnivores, human settlement in wildlife areas, inadequate barriers to control wildlife movements and international restrictions on utilisation of some species that are in local abundance, to mention a few.”
Human-wildlife conflicts, the First Lady observed, were multifaceted as they directly affected the agro-pastoral livelihood assets of communal people, including the destruction of crops and property and people were killed or maimed by dangerous animals.
“As a mother, I believe this is a reason enough for such people to be given a voice within the formal structures of the CITES convention. We therefore need concerted efforts to address manifestations,” she said.
The mother of the nation congratulated state parties present, conservation partners from NGOs, the civic society and the organisers of the event for bringing people together to share ideas, knowledge and experiences to have a shared vision to ensure people benefited positively from conservation of elephants.
“The Zimbabwean Government and other State parties, I have no doubt, remain committed to achieving sustainable development throughout Africa by sustainably using our naturally endowed assets, such as the African Elephant,” she said.
“I strongly encourage Africa to speak with one voice for the good of its people. We are masters of our own destiny. As Africans, we must fully manage and benefit from our God given natural resources without undue interference.”
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said the conference allowed nations the chance to talk of the challenges they faced and opportunities available in navigating the treacherous global discussions about wildlife.
“We called for this conference with the hope that we would invite a few other African countries outside Sadc with whom we often hold different views in terms of our conservation approaches,” he said.
“Our intention was to find common ground first as Africans to ensure that our elephants and communities are safe after all is said and done. We feel the conference has allowed countries gathered here today to map the way forward for our communities and for the African elephant.
“I am particularly delighted that the countries represented here hold up to 65 percent of the world African elephant population. In my view, this conference qualifies as an authority in matters to do with elephant conservation.
“The few days of deliberations have allowed us to talk of the challenges we face and opportunities available for us in navigating the treacherous global discussions about our wildlife.
“Our discussions have made us realise some of the inherent gaps in our conservation initiatives such as unavailability of adequate scientific data for informed decision-making. We will need to work together as a region to find ways of addressing this important gap.
“We will not be able to come up with convincing solutions and arguments if we are not sure of the data we are using. Our scientific and management authorities are therefore encouraged to come together and find ways of addressing these challenges.
“Another important issue Your Excellency that was under discussion was the issue of communities. We cannot continue discussing conservation at the exclusion of communities as the two cannot be separated. We need to find a way of ensuring that our communities play a central role in managing wildlife within their localities.
“I am convinced that community participation will allow us to address several other challenges such as illegal wildlife trade, land use change and human wildlife-conflict which is evidently on the rise.”
Botswana Minister of Environment and Tourism Philda Kereng said communities were benefiting from wildlife and needed to ensure its sustainable utilisation.
“We are benefiting from elephants, we are benefiting from wildlife, we are hunting and it’s benefiting us. We have built better houses, we have sent our children to school and this is what we need to be doing so that we are able to strengthen our voice.
Minister Kereng spelt out the need to link wildlife management with climate change, pollution and other development issues because these also affected the environment.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the First Lady for inspiring us this morning as a patron and as an ambassador for wildlife and environment,” she said.
Secretary for Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mr Munesushe Munodawafa gave an overview of the conference which started on Monday.
“This conference is about wildlife management, but because the elephant is the biggest of the species, we have called it the elephant conference,” he said. “We are preparing for the CITES conference of parties.
“The world is saying the elephant herd is getting extinct and because it’s getting extinct, let’s ban trade in elephants or elephant products. But we are saying as Southern Africa, particularly the KAZA States which are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Angola, our population of elephants is actually increasing but the world just looks at the total global number and says the elephant total population number is decreasing, so let’s ban trade.
“We are also saying we have stockpiles of ivory from elephants which die naturally and we should be allowed to sell that ivory so that we have money to put back into conservation of habitat. Because of climate change and so many droughts we need to drill boreholes so please allow us to use that money.”
Mr Munodawafa said there was human-wildlife conflict because elephants have finished grass and trees in their habitat and are now going into villages destroying crops and killing humans.
Earlier, Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Richard Moyo, had extended a warm welcome to the First Lady and guests for gracing his province.
“I am indeed delighted to welcome our local, regional and international guests and representatives from different African countries who have taken their precious time to come and contribute to this conference,” he said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the choice of venue was not a mistake. Meeting in Hwange provides the opportunity to see first- hand the rich biodiversity of the area and unique culture. Hwange National Park is the largest park in Zimbabwe.
“It hosts the largest elephant population. It is thus an honour and pleasure to host this conference here in Hwange. Matabeleland north province is home to Zimbabwe’s component of one of Africa’s biggest transfrontier conservation areas.”