By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
24 April 2014
A leading conservation group in Zimbabwe has slammed a court challenge filed in the United States, in an attempt to overturn a ban on the importation of hunted elephant trophies.
The US government’s wildlife department announced this month that it was suspending the import of sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, citing questionable management practices and a lack of effective law enforcement.
In a statement on its website, the US wildlife department said: “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 (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act to allow import of elephant trophies from these countries.”
It added: “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.”
But a group called Safari Club International has this week reportedly filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban, calling it ‘abrupt and unwarranted’. According to the NewsDay newspaper, the Club says the information the US wildlife body based its decision on is ‘inadequate’, and does not consider the alleged ‘beneficial impacts’ that US hunters and sport hunting have on African elephant conservation.
The NewsDay report stated that the Safari Club has argued in its court papers that the ban would “undermine on-the-ground conservation benefits created by US hunters.”
“For instance, three game management areas alone, such as Gokwe North, Gokwe South or Mbire, produce roughly $500,000 annually and 85% of the income was applied directly back to local projects for villages through Campfire. This revenue provided local communities with conservation resources and incentives and discouraged poaching,” NewsDay reported.
But Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), said that hunting operations in Zimbabwe are in many cases not only badly managed, but beneficial to only a few individuals. He said that initiatives like Campfire have been a “total failure” because nothing is put back into community development.
“There is no professionalism and in things like Campfire, there are a lot of people appointed and a lot of money is generated but nothing plowed back into the communities,” Rodrigues said.
He added that the US ban is welcome and added that there should be more emphasis on promoting photographic tourism in Zimbabwe, rather than hunting. He said that more money, jobs and local development can be generated if tourism was prioritised over hunting practices.
The US ban has been linked to the partisan distribution of conservation land and hunting quotas in Zimbabwe, which have benefitted ZANU PF officials for many years.
National Parks in 2012 year issued hunting permits to 25 so-called indigenous ‘farmers’ who were given land in the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy in the Lowveld. This was said to be part of the government’s ‘wildlife based land reform’ exercise, saying beneficiaries have been allocated 25-year land leases in conservancies throughout the Masvingo province.
Included in the list of beneficiaries were top ZANU PF officials and loyalists, including war vets leader Joseph Chinotimba, Major General Gibson Mashingaidze, Major General Engelbert Rugeje, Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, then ZANU PF Masvingo provincial chair Lovemore Matuke, then Deputy Health Minister Douglas Mombeshora, ZANU PF’s central committee member Enock Porusingazi, as well as ZANU PF MPs Alois Baloyi, Abraham Sithole, Samson Mukanduri and Noel Mandebvu.
More recently, a land ‘seizure’ in the Hwange National Park has put the future safety of the Presidential Elephant Herd at risk, after their caretaker withdrew over the land row. Sharon Pincott, formerly the head of the Presidential Elephant Project, named government ministers Francis Nhema and Saviour Kasukuwere as being complicit in the potentially damaging distribution of conservation land.
Another key figure in the ZANU PF regime that has been implicated is Minister Ignatius Chombo. He has already been exposed as owning several hunting operations, including those in Hwange.