Region’s wildlife under serious threat

By Lazarus Sauti

NAMIBIA and Zimbabwe are blessed with a variety of wild animals such as buffaloes, elephants, leopards, lions, Lichtenstein’s hartebeests, rhinoceros, antelopes, zebras, pangolins, roan antelopes, the painted dogs (also known as wild dogs) and giraffes.

These and other wild animals are a gift of nature to the countries, as they provide a wide range of ecological, economic and cultural importance in relation to the human existence.

Sadly, the future of wild animals in Namibia and Zimbabwe is under serious threat, thanks to increased poaching, corruption, illegal trans-border trade of live animals, poverty, poor funding, poisoning of waterholes with cyanide and human impact on their homes.

In Namibia, increased incidents of poaching and smuggling of wildlife products has increased to calls for stiffer penalties for offenders.

The elephant population in Zimbabwe, for instance, and as per the African Wildlife Foundation – which is on zero tolerance against poaching and wildlife trafficking campaign, has dropped by 6.8 percent to 82,000 in 2014 from 88,000 three years earlier.

In the last two years, hundreds of elephants have died in the Hwange and Matusadona National parks, as local and foreign poachers poisoned watering holes with cyanide, which is widely used in the country’s mining sector and somewhat easy to obtain due to lax controls.

As a result, the country is losing a lot of revenue, and since 2015 the country lost ivory worth more than US$3.2 million to poaching and other wildlife crime.

Zimbabwe is also losing its black and white rhinoceros due to illegal hunting – and things are getting worse as 51 rhinoceros were killed by poachers in the country’s game reserves in 2015.

“Rhinoceros are targeted by armed gangs due to the belief in Vietnam and China that ground-up horns cured ailments such as cancer,” says Lisa Marabini of the Aware Trust Zimbabwe (ATZ) conservation group.

Crocodiles are also under threat as their eggs are illegally harvested by wildlife smugglers on the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi.

Like ivory and rhino horns, crocodile products are reportedly being illegally exported to South Africa and Asia.

Despite arrests and long-term sentences given to pangolin capturers, dealers and traffickers in Zimbabwe, there is also an increased seizure of live pangolins, pangolins scales, skins and other products in the country.

Last year alone, says the wildlife based nongovernmental organisation Tikki Hywood Trust, Zimbabwe handled over 20 criminal cases involving pangolin poachers and an analysis of the arrest trends shows that most of the poaching cases recorded in the period 2015-2016 originated around game reserves in the provinces of Mashonaland and Matabeleland.

“Nevertheless, Harare remains the pangolin trade area where live pangolin and product buyers as well as trafficking kingpins with external links to South Africa, the South-East Asia and Middle Eastern markets, allegedly operate from,” the trust adds.

Exports are also threatening the country’s wildlife and in 2015, 24 young elephants were sent to Chimelong Safari Park near Guangzhou in China. Forlornly, one of the elephants died in December the same year due to suspected pneumonia, due to harsh conditions caused by weather and other environmental changes.

According to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks), the government also exported 35 African elephants from Hwange National Park to China on December 23, 2016.

Environmental researcher, Simbarashe Mpofu, says the destruction of wild habitats for housing and agricultural purposes, unsustainable fishing, illegal hunting and pollution, magnified by global warming, are to blame for the extinction of wild animal species.

“These factors are also threatening the security as well as livelihoods of the local people, especially vulnerable communities within elephant ranges in the country,” he says, adding that illegal hunting is the most contiguous threat to elephants in the Sebungwe and Zambezi Valley.

As habitat loss expands due to agriculture and urbanisation, adds Mpofu, human and wildlife conflicts have also soared.

Judging by the dramatic decline of wild animals in the country, he affirms, it is safe to conclude that existing strategy and policy responses are ineffective.

As such, radical and wise approaches towards using as well as managing all types of the country’s resources in order to meaningfully improve the wellbeing of both the people and the environment are urgently required.

“One such radical approach is a deep-seated change in how the country views wild animals and wild areas,” he says, adding: “Current habitat protection laws observe wild areas as the property of human beings. This must change if the country is to effectively protect wild animals and transform economically.”

Mpofu seems to be taking a leaf from the author of ‘Animal Property: A Theory of Habitat Rights for Wild Animals’, John Hadley, who believes it is high time countries like Zimbabwe should give property rights to wild animals and save them from extinction.

“An animal property rights system would give animals a ‘voice’ during the land management decision-making processes that put their lives at risk,” Hadley says.

Obviously, he avows, animals cannot speak for themselves and some mechanism is needed to facilitate the concept of an animal seat at the development table, and a person eligible to serve as an animal property rights guardian would need to have knowledge and skills in relevant fields such as ecology, animal welfare or land management.

Notably, Hadley says animal property rights should not be designed to bring a halt to development, but “to promote the values of existing conservation policies by encouraging land managers to think about wild areas in an altogether new way – as the property of resident animals.”

Environmentalist, Edson Nyahwa, urges the government, at every level, to block conduits for illegal trade in ivory, rhino horns and pangolins, a fact supported by Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, who believes the arrest and long-term conviction of local poachers is encouraging, but the problem would continue if the crackdown excludes leaders and financiers of the syndicates which are the drivers and/or enablers of the illicit trade.

The leaders and financiers of the syndicates, admits Rodrigues, roam free because the law in the country is not building on information gathered from the runners to get to the syndicates as well as financiers of the trade.

As for the African Wildlife Foundation, the government has the capacity to do more to control poaching and wildlife trafficking, but all it needs is to enact strict and punitive legislative for wildlife crimes.

Ecologists, Peace Sibanda, believes there is need for workshops to train aviation staff and security officers in the country on advanced cargo inspection techniques so as to effectively detect and prevent the smuggling of live pangolins and other animal products.

He also says the government needs to join hands with the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) as well as regional countries in wildlife conservation activities.

“Recently, Interpol launched a project to identify and dismantle organised crime networks that are making billions in illicit profits through wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia; accordingly, the government should conduct joint operations with Interpol to combat environmental crimes,” he says.

Though Zambia and Zimbabwe are working together and sharing information on the protection of wildlife in the Zambezi Valley, adds Sibanda, more regional countries need to join hands in wildlife conservation strategies.

Geoffreys Matipano, parks authority acting director general, says personnel from the parks authority should be adequately funded to access resources such as patrol equipment.

He also urged the government to provide grants for wildlife conservation, a fact supported by development practitioner, Masimba Mavhudzi, who also encourages the government to engage individuals in fighting poaching and other environmental crimes.

“Protecting the country’s wildlife is a collective responsibility; in view of that, the government and its development partners as well as stakeholders in the wildlife management sector should encourage individuals living next to game parks to stop collaborating with poachers, but stand up for what is right for sustainable development,” Mavhudzi says.

“For this to be effective, communities living close to game parks should immensely benefit from wildlife.”

“We have to protect our wildlife and the best avenue is to show the people that they have economic value, agrees conservationist,” Christopher Magadza.

“If people do not think wildlife can be a source of income, they will kill the species to create space for agricultural production,” he adds.

Zimbabwe and other regional sates, adds researcher Collence Chisita, should resist imposition of external sustainable development values.

He believes the imposition of external sustainable development values makes countries like Zimbabwe fail to reach consensus when it comes to making key decisions that affect their future within United Nations international environmental agreements such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Despite consensus from most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to lift a ban on trade in ivory, CITES maintained it restrictions late last year,” he says.

Prior to the meeting, SADC countries, in particular Namibia and Zimbabwe, submitted a proposal to CITES seeking amendment of the present Appendix II listing of their elephants by removing restrictions that bar them from selling stockpiles on the international market, and the meeting voted against the proposal.

Southern Africa argued that the ban in ivory trade will not only erode the revenue base for wildlife conservation, but can lead to increased cases of poaching as well as other environmental crimes as local communities are not benefitting from ivory trade proceeds.   

March 2017
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