Harare, Zimbabwe – The population of African elephants has been declining dangerously, but not in Zimbabwe.
Authorities in the South African country estimate that the number of their mammoth mammals currently stands at just over 100,000 (up from 84,000 in 2014, when the last census was conducted), with a carrying capacity of about 45,000. .
The surplus has prompted the government in recent weeks to reflect on the mass killing of elephants – something the country last did in 1988 – as an option to control the population to protect other wildlife and wildlife vegetation. country.
“We are overcrowded when it comes to elephants in this country,” Tinashe Farawo, a spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks), told Al Jazeera.
Authorities maintain that the growing population of elephants poses a risk to other animals causing habitat destruction, and has also led to an increase in cases of dangerous interaction between human and wildlife, with dozens of deaths reported in recent years.
“We have vultures that breed in trees. Vultures no longer breed in Hwange (National Park); they have been moved to other places because elephants have a habit of felling trees, ”Farawo said.
He noted that the plan is still in its “formative stages” and that a final decision has yet to be made, but stressed that Zimbabwe’s laws allow for abandonment.
But the Center for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), an environmental and human rights monitoring body in Zimbabwe that documents poaching, opposed the plan.
“The fall will eventually lead to the extinction of these elephants,” spokesman Simiso Mlevu told Al Jazeera.
“That’s just the beginning,” he said. “Soon we will be forced to travel to other countries just to see an elephant.”
Earlier this year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the African forest elephant as “critically endangered” and the African savannah elephant as “endangered”. cite an increase in poaching and habitat loss for declining numbers.
According to the latest assessments of the Swiss-based group, the number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86% over a 31-year period. Meanwhile, the population of African savannah elephants has fallen by at least 60% over the last half century.
Zimbabwe has the second largest elephant population on the continent after Botswana, which has about a third of Africa’s remaining 415,000 elephants.
In addition to slaughter, another option considered by the Zimbabwean authorities is to move elephants from densely populated areas. But both are hampered by a lack of funds, Farawo said.
“It’s an expensive process and right now we don’t have money,” he added. “In 2018, we moved 100 elephants and the exercise cost us $ 400,000.”
Farawo said ZimParks, a government body, requires at least $ 25 million a year for its operations. But the agency has not received any funding from the Zimbabwean government that has not been effective since 2001.
Farawo said his organization needed revenue to conserve elephants, but his finances were very successful in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic severely affected the country’s tourism industry.
In late April, Zimbabwe said it planned to sell hunting licenses to kill 500 elephants to generate income. Trophy hunters are expected to pay between $ 10,000 and $ 70,000, depending on the size of the elephants.
The hunting quota of 500 elephants, which is independent of the killing plan, is allowed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), according to Farawo, who said that “elephants have to pay for their upkeep.”
“Elephants also need to be taken care of, so we should be allowed to trade for this to happen,” Farawo said.
“[This] it means generating money and earning income for elephants. Right now, tourism is dead, so people don’t come to see the elephants. “
But CNRG’s Mlevu said the abandonment would affect tourism, a position echoed by John Robertson, a prominent Zimbabwean economist.
“It inflicts serious damage on wildlife,” Robertson told Al Jazeera. “The loss of wildlife also reduces tourism prospects, on which the country depends heavily.”
Audrey Delsink, wildlife director at Humane Society International / Africa, said killing elephants has “a traumatic effect on the rest of the population.” He said it is for this reason that South African authorities are using contraception as a population control option.
Noting that 76 percent of elephant populations in Africa cross borders, Delsink told Al Jazeera: “Management actions taken on the wrong scale can have massive consequences and widespread wear and tear effects. far beyond the target area, area or population.
“Therefore, Zimbabwe’s management options could have devastating consequences for transitional elephants. The situation in Zimbabwe does not seem to be so much about the number of elephants per se, but rather about the funding of the managing authority: the elephants are simply a means to an end. “