/ 10 February 2015

Zimbabwe forges ahead with plans to export elephants

'The killing of 86 elephants
But the Botswana government has cast doubt on the tally of recently killed elephants in the country, saying the "statistics are false and misleading." (AFP)

President Robert Mugabe’s government said on Monday that it is going ahead with controversial plans to export live elephants despite resistance from animal rights groups.

“We are going ahead with selling the elephants, we have done our studies and we are going to do every transaction under the [global wildlife trade treaty] CITES parameters,” Prince Mupazviriho, the permanent secretary in the environment, water and climate ministry, told state broadcaster ZBC.

Up to 80 elephant calves are now believed to have been captured in Zimbabwe’s western Hwange National Park since November, sparking international outrage.

The cash-strapped state national parks authority says Zimbabwe has too many elephants and it needs the money it can raise from elephant sales to fund its operations. Each elephant can fetch up to $60 000 on the international market.

Conservationists say that it is cruel to separate the calves from the rest of the herd. Activists also say that the sales of 60 to 100 calves will make a very little dent upon Zimbabwe’s total elephant population, which the government puts at 80 000.

“The government is going ahead with its plans and will not be derailed by groups which do not have an understanding of the situation in the country’s national parks,” the ZBC said in a report posted on its website.

Seven Zimbabwean elephants are already known to have been exported to the United Arab Emirates. But the authorities in Harare confirm France has cancelled its order for between 15 and 20 elephants following pressure. China is also reported to have elephants on order.

Elephant herds under threat 
The Mail & Guardian reported in April last year that political and military elites were seizing protected areas in one of Africa’s last bastions for elephants – putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a nonprofit research group’s report that examined government collusion in wildlife trafficking.

While Zimbabwe has maintained robust elephant populations compared with other countries on the continent, economic penalties imposed by the United States and Europe had led Zimbabweans with ties to President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party to find new methods of making money. The report said that they may be turning to elephants’ highly-valued ivory tusks.

Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group, commissioned the report from Washington-based C4ADS to better understand the role organised crime and corrupt government officials play in ivory trafficking across Africa, Adam Roberts, Born Free USA’s chief executive, said at the time.

Wildlife trafficking long has been viewed as a conservation issue, but it has exploded into an illicit global economy monopolised by mafia-like syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful business interests. The report describes a toxic combination of conflict, crime and failures of governance throughout Africa that threatens to wipe out the continent’s dwindling elephant herds.

China, the world’s largest market for ivory, is compounding the threat, the report said. Chinese companies have won lucrative contracts in Zimbabwe for mining and construction projects near remote elephant habitats, bringing waves of workers and new roads that can be exploited by East Asian crime organisations, the report said. – Sapa, Staff reporter