By Byron Mutingwende
Wildlife conservation is a vehicle for socio-economic development and the government has put in place an enabling policy for its conservation under different land tenure systems.
Speaking to Parliamentarians under the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Conservation Caucus on wildlife management challenges in Zimbabwe, Oppah Muchinguri, the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate said wildlife crime had become topical at the highest political level within the country and internationally.
“I am pleased to note that strategies to combat wildlife poaching, illicit trafficking of and illegal trade in wildlife have been put in place at all levels including national, regional SADC and African continental levels. We lost 243 elephants to poaching in 2015, 159 in 2016 and 24 so far this year,” Muchinguri said.
Poaching and illegal trade involve transnational organised crime and have strong linkages with trafficking of humans, drugs, precious minerals and arms. Due to the global nature of illegal wildlife trade and its links to peace, security and development, fighting international organised crime can only be effectively tackled through unified efforts of the international community and national government agencies.
Zimbabwe is facing key challenges in its effort to curb poaching, illegal wildlife trade and trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products. The wildlife areas are large, many are scattered throughout the country and some are located at the periphery of the country in remote areas with poor access. Both gazetted and ungazetted wildlife areas cover about 26% of Zimbabwe’s surface area.
The other problem is that syndicated criminals are becoming high-tech and sophisticated in committing offences and in avoiding detection. Muchinguri bemoaned the use of specialised firearms and poisonous chemicals. She revealed that a total of 105 elephants were fatally poisoned in 2013, 21 in 2014, 99 in 2015 and 24 in 2016 and so far this year, 12 have been poisoned in and outside the parks estate.
Added to the above challenges are the porous international borders at the both undesignated and designated entry and exit points as well as inadequate patrol equipment.
In trying to tackle the challenges, the government has developed a number of strategies to deal with wildlife poaching and illegal trade. Zimbabwe has developed new cutting edge technology to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of law enforcement. These include experimenting with drones in wildlife protection; the use of sniffer dogs in wildlife protection; and the use of aircrafts including helicopters and micro-lights.
Aircrafts and drones are used for patrolling large areas that are not easily accessible from the ground to detect illegal activities such as human encroachment into, illegal mining and livestock grazing in protected areas. They are also used for aerial surveys and monitoring through counting large mammals; capture and translocations through spotting of target individuals; and rescue operations through searching and locating staff and tourists who go missing in action or in the wilderness.
Tapiwa Mashakada, the Legislator for Hatfield who is also a member of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Conservation Caucus said the engagement meeting was the beginning of a long journey that will involve legislators in the fight for animal rights and their conservation.
“Wildlife is a big source of economic activity and tourism. There is need for concerted effort by all stakeholders in the management and conservation of wildlife in Zimbabwe. Parliament has not been involved in wildlife conservation efforts and CITES discussions yet it is Parliamentarians who represent the people who are covered by programmes such as CAMPFIRE and other community initiatives. It is important to sensitise Parliamentarians on wildlife matters. This is why I think the establishment of the Caucus is a welcome development in the network of wildlife conservation and management groups in Zimbabwe,” Mashakada said.
Doreen Mutsa Nyamukapa, the Programme Analyst, Parliament and Gender of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Zimbabwe said since the Constitution now enshrines environmental rights, stakeholders could engage the Legislature and the Executive to harmonise the various wildlife laws as part of the law alignment process.
“The Portfolio Committee which is aware of most of the legislative gaps should be mobilised to push for the law. As a short term measure, the police and the Judiciary can be educated on wildlife by the Executive and civil society organisations to raise awareness while the diplomas and degrees are being incorporated into the curricular,” Nyamukapa said.
Dickson Chitupa, the Principal of Mushandike College of Wildlife Management, who is also a legal practitioner said there were challenges on governance issues with land outside the wildlife protected areas, both private and communal.
“For example, the CAMPFIRE programme is facing governance issues. It is over-relying on hunting revenues hence tempted to over-hunt. It also has weak ecological and logistical monitoring systems for both wildlife populations and hunting operations. The other threat is the percieved incomplete devolution of authority and responsibility to the community level as de facto managers of wildlife resources,” Chitupa said.
Some pieces of legislation are conflicting and fuelling wildlife crime in Zimbabwe. A case in point is the potential conflicts arising between the administration of the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20: 14 and the National Museums and Monuments Act Chapter 25: 11, and also between the Parks and Wildlife Management Act Chapter 20: 14 and the Mines and Minerals Act Chapter 21: 05. It means, therefore, besides realigning different Acts of law with the national Constitution, the various pieces of legislation need to be re-aligned with each other.
“On the international forum, we have organisations like CITES which are increasingly being characterised by trade restrictions that are adversely affecting trade in our wildlife resources and fuelling wildlife crimes through the suspension of legal markets resulting in the emergence of parallel black markets due to the huge demand of wildlife and wildlife related products,” Muchinguri said.
She added that some trade provisions under CITES were increasingly frustrating the country’s efforts. Zimbabwe has 102 tonnes of elephant ivory stocks that have accumulated over the years yet the country experts to get financial gain.
Charles Jonga, the Director of the CAMPFIRE Association said the initiative by the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Conservation Caucus to bring together key stakeholders to a dialogue process would enhance the country’s standing contribution to wildlife locally and internationally.
“The CAMPFIRE Association fully endorses this effort and will work harder to ensure that the contribution of rural communities to wildlife conservation is fully recognised at all levels,” Jonga said.
CAMPFIRE is involved in the conservation of natural resources, mainly wildlife, for the benefit of communities in 12 major wildlife-endowed districts. Communities continue to benefit from a share of income generated mainly from trophy-hunting of various species., especially elephant, as well as lion, crocodile and buffalo – all of which causehuge problems in terms of crops and livestock.
The CAMPFIRE Asscociation has spearheaded arrangements for communities to receive their income promptly through direct payments from safari operators, better hunting administration by rural district councils, and mobilisation of resources to help mitigate conflict between humans and elephants. Recently, it has done this in Ward 7 under Tsholotsho district.
Themba Khumbula, the Director of Speak Out for Animals (SOFA), said his organisation was passionate about having in place the animal protection law.
“We seek to come up with sustainable wildlife management initiatives and legal assistance that involves all stakeholders. We are embracing an education campaign to enlighten all stakeholders on wildlife conservation and the laws that govern the protection of animals. We believe it’s our sole responsibility to educate the public on animal laws. We have recently held a number of workshops on animal law. Our goal is to ignite an interest in wildlife law among stakeholders. In the future, we hope we will have a number of animal law advocates who aid in prosecution cases involving wildlife,” Khumbula said.
SOFA noted its concern about the increase in population growth that was exerting pressure on the flora and fauna, with humans encroaching into animal habitats. They called for stakeholders involved in wildlife management to collaborate in order to achieve the harmonisation of human and environmental goals.