Zimbabwe, which is sitting on more than 136 tonnes of ivory and rhino horns worth about US$600 million, is prepared to operate outside the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) if the organisation continues to make it impossible for the country to fully benefit from its wildlife resource.
In a post-Cabinet briefing in Harare yesterday, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said conservation decisions should be scientifically-based and not politically inclined.
“We are clear that we are not going to CITES to beg them. We are going to CITES to present our strong position, a position which we are willing to defend, even if it means being outside CITES
“We are there in CITES to share our success stories for the benefit of those countries who want to also experience the successes in the conservation that we have experienced; not to be lectured on how we conserve our wildlife,” he said.
Minister Ndlovu said the trade in ivory was a sticky one and should be cleared. He pointed out that if CITES is not in a position to finance conservation in African countries with excess wildlife populations, then “wildlife should finance itself”.
He indicated that in the case of Zimbabwe elephant populations are growing at a rate of between five and eight percent, which is unsustainable, with the next five years being particularly crucial as wildlife populations face fatalities.
“All possibilities of us selling our excess live elephants to those who want to populate their areas have been cut under CITES.
“They have introduced an amendment to the current CITES provisions, which says we can only sell to appropriate and acceptable destinations, literally meaning we can only sell to the African countries most of whom have these elephants in abundance,” he said.
Minister Ndlovu said despite growing populations, Zimbabwe will continue defending its wildlife heritage.
“But when we have a chance to generate revenues to support conservation CITES comes and they close that window,” he said.
“We are left with limited choices. If this CITES is not decisive on this critical matter, we will be left with no choice than to either go the culling way or may be consider engaging our affairs outside CITES.”
His remarks come as Zimbabwe prepares to host the African Elephant Conservation Conference at Hwange National Park next week.
On Monday, Western countries’ ambassadors toured the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) ivory stockpile in Harare to get an appreciation of the situation on the ground.
“We thought it is important that we need, mainly as African ministers of environment, to exchange notes on how we
can continue on our conservation trajectory; and also how we can tackle other critical issues,” said Minister Ndlovu.
The conference, which will see 150 participants, including government ministers from 16 African countries, diplomats and other non-state players, chiefs and local community representatives attending, is primarily meant to discuss and prepare for the CITES 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19), scheduled for November 2022 in Panama, Central America.
“So, among the key outcomes that we are looking at, really, is a position that we would take to CITES from Africa on how conservation should finance itself. It doesn’t make sense that as a country we have a holding capacity of 45 000 elephants, and are currently sitting on close to 90 000 elephants.
“When these elephants are dying due to natural attrition and other reasons we only stockpile, but that stockpile of ivory cannot be ploughed back to support our conservation; even when we have gone through two years of Covid-19 which has significantly reduced the revenues from tourism.
Minister Ndlovu said at the conference they will exchange notes and come up with an African position in favour of conservation, and take their fight to CITES as a united front, as anything short of that was not in support of conservation.