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The truth about the Zimbabwe Elephant population

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  • The truth about the Zimbabwe Elephant population

    Report on Elephant numbers in Zimbabwe.


    The banning of the importation of sport-hunted ivory into the USA.

    The United Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) states that the poisoning of 300 elephant in Hwange National Park validates Zimbabwe’s elephant poaching issues. The actual number was between 120- 130 as per a report from Mr. Collin Gillies who is the chairman of the Matabeleland Branch of Wildlife and Environment, Zimbabwe. If the service is prepared to accept this false information as fact, it calls into question the validity of the rest of its intelligence.

    All the cases of poisoned elephant were actually found by professional hunters. Thys De Vries in the Josibanini area of Hwange and Pete Fick in the Ngamo forestry area and the Maitengwe area. Had these professional hunters not been in the field, and the only viable hunting in these areas is elephant hunting, red flags would not have been raised.

    The poachers from that poaching incident were hammered, 4 groups were caught and only a few individuals from each group escaped but they are known and will be on the run forever. All others arrested were sentenced to jail terms of more than 5 years. The poisoning has not occurred again since the arrest of these poachers. The successful and effective response appears to have worked at least for the short term. The hunting operations on the boundaries of the park are a very effective deterrent to poaching operations. If they are forced to leave there will be nobody to monitor the situation.

    The Hwange National Park has the largest population of elephant in Zimbabwe. The park’s longest boundary is also the southern most boundary of the biggest elephant population in the world i.e. KAZA (the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area http://www.kavangozambezi.org) This boundary is with the Tsholotsho and Maitengwe communal areas.

    The sport-hunting quota of elephant from the three hunting areas (Maitengwe, Tsholotsho north and Tsholosho south) is between 30 -35 per annum. This number has been the consistent annual off-take in these areas for nearly 20 years - it is sustainable.

    The financial value of this sport hunted quota that fits within the CITES approved quota administered by DNPWM can be quantified in 3 ways:

    1. Trophy fees paid to District Councils average $ 15 000 per elephant multiplied by 35 gives a total of $ 525 000. This actually constitutes 95% of their total CAMPFIRE income from tourism and wildlife.

    Of this total, 85% goes straight back into ward and village level projects. Their impact is huge as an example a typical twin classroom blocks for 70-80 students costs in the region of $ 50 000 each to build.

    2. An equivalent amount of money is generated through daily rates into the local economy by hunting safari operations in the form of staff salaries, foodstuffs, transport, diesel, the purchase of thatching grass from local people, the hiring of casual labor for road-clearing and other maintenance work.

    3. The amount of philanthropic dollars from sport-hunters who visit the area almost matches that again on a per annum basis.

    An example of this is a project that was initiated by a sport-hunter through Living Waters. In the Maitengwe area 24 village wells were sunk and equipped and 18 in Tsholotsho, each well costing $ 10 000. To find out more about Living Waters click on this link. http://www.water.cc/ourwork

    These amounts may not seem much to the average American but to poor villages living on the frontline with wildlife, it is a lot of money. The average family incomes are less than $500 per year. These are the same people that will either report or support the Chinese sponsored poachers when they come back to town after the sport-hunting operators move out. Last year in the aftermath of the poisoning incidents they exposed the poachers and that led to the arrests of most of them. In the absence of sport hunting generated revenues there is little doubt what they will do next time.

    Another critical benefit of the sport hunting of these 35 elephant produces 70 tons of read meat per annum for the local communities. This equates to 1.3 tons per week for these communities that eat protein on average one meal per week.

    The San people who were displaced from Hwange National Park when it was created are totally reliant on trophy hunted elephant meat for survival. Without it they would be totally destitute.

    Prior to the launching of this successful CAMPFIRE program in this area more elephants were shot on problem animal control (crop-raiders that annihilate the villages only source of food) for zero return than are sport hunted today.

    Hunting companies started pumping water in Hwange Park in 2002 because the Zimbabwean Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management (DNPWM) were no longer able to keep the pumps going because of a financial crisis. Since then hunters have kept tens of thousands of elephants alive, principally in the southern quarter of the park.

    Through the servicing and maintenance of pumps and waterholes by the hunting operators, 8000 elephant are provided with water. At the end of the dry season each year 130,000 US gallons of water are pumped to the surface per day to sustain the elephant and the other wildlife species.

    The Maitengwe dam also provides water to all of the wildlife in the Sibanini area of the park once all of the natural waterholes have dried up inside the park. Every year repairs to the dam have to be carried out because of the intense pressure that is placed on the dam by elephant and other wildlife species as well as the local community cattle. The hunting safari operators carry out these repairs.

    The Rural district councils realize $ 525 000 per annum from trophy fees from the sustainable sport hunted elephant quota. There is one photographic lodge in the area which generates $ 30 000 per year in revenue for the council. By next year there will be three photographic lodges which should increase this total to $ 100 000 which is still well short of the $ 500 000 realized through trophy elephant hunting.

    The closing of elephant hunting for US hunters through the ban of the importation of trophy hunted ivory will not stop the poaching of elephant and the actions of the FWS are totally irresponsible and in fact extremely dangerous. The minimal poaching that occurs, and the taking of 35 trophy elephant a year pales into insignificance to the real problems that Hwange and indeed the whole of Zimbabwe faces and that is the over-population of elephant.


    The History of Hwange National Park.

    It is important to understand the history of Hwange National Park to realize how the present circumstances have arisen.

    When Ted Davidson, the first Warden of the park, arrived in 1922 he realized that the provision of water was going to be the key factor. By July every year, in all but exceptionally wet seasons, most of the water had dried up and water-dependant game were forced to leave the park. And move into conflict with a rapidly increasing human population around the Park. The elephant population at that time was between 500-1000.

    Most of Hwange National Park is flat and sandy, with little run-off during the rains; consequently there are no permanent rivers that flow year-round and very few small water- courses.

    There are, however, numerous natural pans formed over thousands of years by animal activity. These pans are seasonal, only filling with the arrival of the rains. The game park sits above a network of fossil riverbeds containing vast amounts of water and so a program to sink boreholes near established pans and pump water into them was started.

    Windmills were erected to pump water into the pans but as wildlife populations flourished in particular elephants, they became unable to sustain the demand of the increasing water dependent animal populations.

    During the 1950's and 60's the introduction of diesel engines to supplement the windmills in pumping water into the pans improved the situation dramatically. Year round water soon had an effect on game migration, too.

    By 1980 elephant populations had reached 25 000 and the sustainability of the system exceeded as woodlands and other herbivore species collapsed.

    The present estimate of Hwange's elephant population ranges between 25 000 and 40 000. There is some debate as to the actual number but it is irrelevant. There is very clearly a massive overpopulation when seen in the context of limited food supplies within range of available surface water.

    During the drought of 2012 large numbers of elephant died of starvation within Hwange National Park. The meat from these animals rotted in the bush as the natural scavengers could not deal with the amount.

    Click on the link below to watch a trailer of the movie 'Grey Matters' which highlights the crisis.



    So we are faced with a farcical situation with a starving elephant population on one side of the fence and on the other one of the poorest communities in the world being denied revenue from the utilization of a natural resource because of a perceived but inaccurate concern for the wellbeing of a single animal species that is actually in a state of overpopulation.

    Quite simply, the ecosystem of this part of Africa cannot sustain these elephant numbers. For FWS to declare that sport hunting within the communal lands neighbouring Hwange is having a detrimental effect on this population is ludicrous and without any scientific basis as is the charge that the illegal off take of elephant within Hwange National Park is of the same gravity to that of the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.

    Zig Mackintosh.




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