Picture: 123RF/CHRIS FOURIE
Picture: 123RF/CHRIS FOURIE

Zimbabwe’s wildlife authorities are considering pulling out of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in protest over its refusal to approve the sale of the country’s $300m ivory stockpile.

The southern African nation has more than  84,000 elephants, the second-largest population in the world after Botswana.

With its economy in tatters, Zimbabwe desperately needs the money. It argues that the funds will help with proper management and conservation of its elephant population.

Speaking to Business Day in Harare, a top official from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks), who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the move was being “seriously considered”.

“Such a decision makes sense for us because our elephant population continues to grow and selling the ivory is the only viable option for the country."

The official said most game reserves in the country were overpopulated by up to four times their capacity.

“There is localised overabundance of elephants. North west Matebeleland has an ecological carrying capacity of 15,000 elephants (but which currently supports)  54,000.

“Similarly South Eastern Lowveld has a carrying capacity of 3,000 elephants and is currently holding 11,000 elephants.  The overabundance scenarios are causing serious ecological harm both on the habitats and on other animals,” the official said.

On Monday Zimparks director-general Fulton Mangwanya told parliamentarians the country urgently needed to sell its stockpile to deal with the challenges managing the herd.

Mangwanya said it was unfair for other countries to prescribe how to handle Zimbabwe’s  own animals.

Cites has a long-standing ban on international ivory sales to curb poaching and protect elephants, which are considered endangered. Cites has since 1989 sanctioned occasional one-off sales.

Botswana, Zambia and Namibia, which all have large elephant populations, support the plan to pull out of CITES. 

In May, Botswana lifted a hunting ban on wildlife to control growing incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

Since 2012 Zimbabwe has raised about $3m selling 97 young elephants to zoos in China and Dubai, but the government considers the figure too small and wants to raise more funds through trade in ivory.