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US extends elephant ban

THE United States government has extended its ban on the importation of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe to December 2014, which could have a devastating impact on the viability of the safari industry.

Wongai Zhangazha

The extension of the ban comes after Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (Soaz) chairperson Emmanuel Fundira led a delegation to the United States in May to try and have the decision withdrawn.

The delegation met various government officials including Secretary of State John Kerry.

The delegation comprised Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director-general Edson Chidziya, Campfire director Charles Jonga, Zimbabwean Professional Hunters and Guides Association chairman Louis Muller and wildlife consultant Rowan Martin.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in April announced a suspension on imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, arguing that available data showed a significant decline in the elephant population.

In an interview on Wednesday Fundira said the extension was shocking as it would seriously affect the tourism sector as well as employment in a country already burdened by a 90% unemployment rate.

He said: “The announcement of the extension of the ban to December came on Monday and is extremely depressing. For example the ban would affect 65% of the market which is in from the America including North and South America. That itself shows the collapse of the industry.”

“The effect is also horrendous as 800 000 households under the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) are affected at a time employment levels in the country are poor.”

In their petition lobbying for the lifting of the ban, the delegation questioned the benchmark used by USFWS to define the elephant decline.

“Zimbabwe can support at most about 50 000 elephants on the land available in the country. The effects of exceeding the ecological carrying capacity for elephants are glaringly evident — habitats are being destroyed, carrying capacity for wildlife in general is being reduced and elephants are dying of poverty. An ecological disaster is imminent,” the delegation argued.

“The statement by the USFWS that additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species demonstrates an ignorance of the biological impact of trophy hunting. Quotas for trophy hunting are negligible in biological terms and have no effect on the rate of increase of elephant populations.”

Fundira said the there was lack of scientific information to convince USFWS that the country’s elephants are not threatened hence the best way forward for the organisation was to extend the ban until December.

“We are however in the process of lobbying further and the minister responsible for this sector (Minister of Environment Saviour Kasukuwere) has called for an indaba on this new information,” he said.

Defending the ban, the USFWS said they were concerned by Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggesting that the country’s elephants are under siege.

“Given the current situation on the ground in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the Service is unable to make positive findings required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Endangered Species Act to allow import of elephant trophies from these countries,” read the statement.

“Additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species.”

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