Zim elephants a jumbo problem

27 August 2013 - 02:39 By SCHALK MOUTON

Zimbabwe conservation authorities say they are running out of funds to properly manage species like elephant that are increasingly being targeted by poaching syndicates.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority said in an article in the Zimbabwe Gazette last week that the country's elephant population was 100 000 strong and becoming too large to manage.

Zimparks spokesman Caroline Washaya-Moyo said the elephant population - the third-biggest in the world - was putting a strain on the resources in the country's parks and the animals were becoming easy targets for poachers.

"Law enforcement requires operational equipment such as patrol kits, uniforms, radio communication kits, vehicles, boats, tracking equipment [eg GPS]," said Washaya-Moyo.

"Currently, most of the existing field equipment is old and obsolete. Poachers are getting sophisticated. In some situations poachers are using hi-tech gear including night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquillisers, silencers and helicopters."

Washaya-Moyo said that, unlike in other countries, Zimparks was not funded by the government. The parks authority currently owned a stockpile of 62 374.33 tons of ivory worth $15.6-million (about R159.5-million), which it was not allowed to export as it is bound by regulations from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

"The authority is therefore saying elephant ivory in store represents animals that are already dead. Why should we not use the dead to look after living animals?" she asked.

Conservationists in Zimbabwe are, however, sceptical about the numbers of elephants quoted.

The last comprehensive elephant census in the country was done in 2001, when their largest population, in Hwange National Park, was counted. Elephant estimates from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's elephant database from last year indicates an estimated 76930 animals in the country with only 47366 being "definite".

"Any figure of elephant numbers is a spurious guess," said Sally Wynn, spokesman for the Zambezi Society.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said the parks authority was trying to spread "propaganda" to get Cites to allow an ivory sale.

"A couple of months back the numbers of elephant in the country were between 40000 and 45000 and that was sustainable. Now [the number of elephant] is 100 000. How do they come up with those figures?" he said.

Cites banned the commercial sale of ivory in 1989, but in 1997 allowed Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell their existing stock of ivory to Japan in 1999 and allowed a second sale that included South Africa in 2008.

Daphne Sheldrick, a conservationist based in Nairobi, last week said about 36000 elephants were killed in Africa last year, and elephants could be extinct in 12 years.

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