Authorities in Zimbabwe will sell the right to shoot at least 500 endangered African forest elephants to help fund the country’s national parks, a government agency spokesperson has confirmed to VICE World News. Trophy hunters will be able to pay between $10,000 to $70,000 depending on the size of the animal.
The move is an attempt to plug a financial hole caused by a drop in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government agency responsible for managing Zimbabwe’s national parks has claimed that some of the money raised from shooting the endangered animals will be used to stop people from shooting other animals.
“I think we are the only wildlife management agency in the world that does not receive money from the government,” Tinashe Farawo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), told VICE World News in a telephone interview on Friday.
“We have to buy fuel and rifles for our anti-poaching rangers. We need money to fund costs involved in taking care of these animals.”
Most of Zimbabwe’s trophy hunters come from the US, and soon the government will offer them their pick of 500 elephants from the country's 100,000 population. But Zimpparks is pushing for more.
“Our national parks are overpopulated,” Farawo added. “The quota of 500 elephants is not helping at all. This is about 0.5 percent of the entire population.”
Hwange National Park alone is home to 45,000 elephants, twice its recommended capacity, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, a non-governmental organisation that manages wildlife and protected areas. This, Farawo claims, has led to a rise in cases of elephants wandering outside of the national parks. “The situation is likely to be dire,” he added. “Water sources will be dry in national parks. These animals are likely to go into the communities. As of April this year we have recorded 21 cases of people killed by animals, and last year we recorded 60 cases.”
Wildlife conservation groups, however, do not believe that allowing trophy hunters free rein through parks will do anything to solve the problem.
“It is unfortunate that Zimparks still holds views that wildlife can better be conserved through hunting down considerable game for money,” says Lenin Chisaira, a director at Advocates4Earth, a non-profit environmental law, climate and wildlife justice organisation.
“Selling hunting rights for sport by rich foreign tourists is not sustainable nor beneficial to either wildlife or local communities. Advocates4Earth and other conservation groups have been calling for eco-tourism and involvement of local communities and environmentalists in wildlife management and policymaking, but that plea has fallen on deaf ears.”
Zimbabwe closed its tourism sector in March 2020 when President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government imposed a six-month national lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Tourism contributed 7.2 percent in 2018 and 6.5 percent in 2019 of the country’s gross domestic, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA). ZTA estimates that Zimbabwe’s tourism sector lost at least $1 billion in potential revenue last year.
Speaking at a United Nations Environment Programme summit in Victoria Falls in June 2019, President Mnangagwa called for a global lift on the sale of ivory so that Zimbabwe could sell its stockpile of tusks worth $600 million to fund animal conservation for the next two decades.
“Wildlife will never be saved by hunting for trophies,” Chisaira says, “and the practice by its nature is elitist, sadistic and exclusionary of local communities.”