Mpofu: The past week has seen newspapers carrying advertisements for the post of Director-General of the Parks and Wildlife Authority. What legacy have you left during your tenure in office?
Mtsambiwa: The reason why you have seen those adverts is that my contract will be coming to an end on 31 March 2010. I have served as Director-General for seven years. As tradition the board has to appoint someone else but I’m also free to apply. During this time that I was serving in the authority we went through a transformation process — from being a government department to a self-sustaining parastatal which meant that there were some typical challenges that you find in that process. Firstly we used to get government subsidies but now we have to finance ourselves. Conservation and commercialisation are two independent processes that have the potential to destroy each other. Our core business is conservation but to sustain that business we need money through commercialisation. So the challenge has been to strike that balance.
Secondly as a government department our main role was to be a regulatory body and we continued to be a regulatory body. But through commercialisation we have become competitors with those we regulate (for example the authority has hunting concessions). We can however be a professional body through accountability and transparency. Another challenge was that we were coming from a civil service culture so there was need to transform the mind and introduce a performance-based approach to business. It is also imperative to note that during this same period of transformation, there was an upsurge in the demand for wildlife products — both legally and illegally. Legally in the sense that a lot of people wanted to come into business but it has its own limits, especially for the indigenous people in the fishing industry among others. Illegally in that the harsh economic environment that prevailed triggered a surge in poaching. The fact that the authority is still there means that we have been able to face some of those challenges. We are still regarded as one of the best conservation agencies in the region. In 2003 during my first 100 days I was able to convince people who were preparing the World’s Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa that Zimbabwe had a story to tell and we presented a paper on parks governance which was describing our transformation process.
Mpofu: Last November, you suspended all hunting permits citing allegations of illegal activities among some operators. What anomalies did you find from the verification exercise that ended last December?
Mtsambiwa: We have concluded the exercise but fortunately or unfortunately we did not come up with any discrepancies. Because of that exercise, if there were people with forged documents, they did not bring them forward which means that we foiled the use of those documents.
Mpofu: How many elephants and rhinos did the country lose to poaching during the past year?
Mtsambiwa: We lost something to the tune of 145 elephants, about nine white rhinos and about seven black rhinos. We also lost 42 zebras that were killed for skins and 91 buffaloes. We are dealing with unscrupulous people that seem to have a market out there.
Mpofu: Do you see yourself effectively thwarting such criminal activities?
Mtsambiwa: It is our hope that as the economy improves we will have more resources before us to fully curb poaching. We also rely on other strategic partnerships we have with other state partners such as the police, army and the attorney-general’s office for stiffer penalties.
Mpofu: Press reports recently implicated cabinet ministers to poaching activities. What do you say to this?
Mtsambiwa: We haven’t had any credible evidence on those allegations. They have remained allegations and nobody has come to us to prove otherwise.
Mpofu: How much ivory does Zimbabwe have in store? How old is the stock pile and what is its market value?
Mtsambiwa: We have roughly about 20 tonnes in stock accumulated since January 2007. We are only able to sell the approved stock piles accumulated before January 2007. Market value is determined by an auction. At the last auction in November 2008, Zimbabwe’s ivory was worth US$150 per kg.
Mpofu: We understand it costs millions to look after animals in the wild, where are you getting the money considering the government is broke?
Mtsambiwa: The authority generates revenue from safari, hunting concessions, selling of animals in excess and from leasing concessions and various activities within our commercialisation model. We also adopted an innovative approach of generating revenue.
Mpofu: There are reports of wildlife farmers being evicted from their farms. They are being forced to leave their animals including lions behind. Some lions are now roaming freely posing a danger to surrounding communities…what are you doing about this?
Mtsambiwa: First and foremost, we are not aware of such farmers. But we have a case when someone abandoned captive breeding of lions and left them in the custody of the authority and the SPCA. This farmer decided to abandon this project after he was evicted from another farm elsewhere, not necessarily the one where he was breeding the carnivores. It is true that one of the lions escaped but we tracked it down and shot it.
Mpofu: From your understanding, how does Kenya benefit from its reported proposal to Cites to extend the moratorium on the country’s trade in ivory to 20 years?
Mtsambiwa: There are two different schools of thought between Zimbabwe and Kenya when it comes to wildlife utilisation. To put it bluntly, they don’t believe in hunting for commercial purposes. We believe in hunting. They believe that if you allow that you’ll trigger poaching for ivory. Their conservation efforts rely on donor funding and at times some of these big donors influence their thinking to support this school of thought. So by proposing that we stop trading, they are actually getting an upper hand in that school of thought.
Mpofu: So how do they make viable business without this trade?
Mtsambiwa: Through safari and other products such as photography.
Mpofu: Finally what does it take to persuade Cites to permit ivory exports from Zimbabwe? Or rather what message are you taking to the meeting?
Mtsambiwa: We believe in consumptive (hunting) utilisation which is supporting our conservation efforts. We believe that hunting in a sustainable manner is a good source of revenue for conservation. Lastly it is our hope that the industry will recover from last year’s global recession.