Politics –not a popularity contest

From Kenya to South Africa, African law-enforcement and conservation authorities are facing a continuing battle with poachers.

And it is in strife-torn African countries where governance is at its weakest, that the elephant population is being hit hardest, with thousands of jumbos killed each year.

Conservationists have recorded steep declines in population and fear fewer than 20 000 of the Great Lakes region’s forest elephants remain in the Congo basin.

Although Zimbabwe has a zero tolerance policy for wildlife crime, strong institutions and laws must be developed to ensure the policy is enforced given rampant poaching and proliferation of ivory and rhino horn on the streets of Harare. Illegal wildlife trade is the fifth largest illicit trade worldwide, and it finances insecurity across Africa.

Africa has about 500 000 elephants (the bulk of them in Zimbabwe and Botswana), but the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) says they are increasingly threatened. Despite a 23-year ban on international trade in ivory, elephants continue to be shot for their prized tusks, with much of the material ending up on sale in China.

Under the circumstances, the very future of the African elephant, the largest land mammal on Earth, could be at risk. We don’t want our children to inherit an empty forest, do we?

Sadly, as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) annual Standing Committee meeting took place in Geneva from July 23-27, a report graded 23 African and Asian origin, transit and destination countries implicated in illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts giving them scores of green, yellow or red for each species group.

It concluded that poaching for international trade is threatening elephants, rhinos and tigers.

.Over 250 rhinos have been killed so far this year in South Africa.

.Tens of thousands elephants are killed each year for their ivory

.There are as few as 3 200 tigers left in the wild

Laws exist to protect elephants, rhinos and tigers, but governments are not doing all they could to save them.

Criminal kingpins involved in illegal wildlife trade are according to conservation groups distributing guns, intimidating communities, exploiting the poor, and bribing officials in order to get what they want.

In 1989, Kenya under Daniel arap Moi became the first African country to burn its own stockpile of seized ivory, while Zambia torched tusks three years later. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki under the auspices of the Lusaka Task Force Agreement (LATF) last year again burnt ivory mountains.

Inspired, Gabon also burnt its ivory stockpiles worth $9,3 million sometime last month. Gabonese President Ali Bongo, who lit the pyre, said: “We believe this is a strong signal of intent . . . against poaching and illegal wildlife trade — at a time of intense poaching pressure in central Africa, where the illegal killing of elephants for ivory is at record levels.”

Should countries burn their ivory stockpiles to halt illegal trade? Were these actions popularity stunts? Can we imagine what that money could have done to change the lives of those living alongside the jumbos? Is there a way to humanely remove the tusks of elephants to make them less of a target to poachers who only kill them for the tusks?

Not at all, an elephant’s tusks are like teeth and they need them to dig, feed, and settle their differences.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is currently sitting on 52 000kg of raw ivory, worth tens of millions of dollars. Zimbabwe was allowed a once-off ivory trade in 2008, but the moratorium ends in 2018.

The upsurge in poaching in Zimbabwe and other countries is cause for concern — what with some political upstarts invading conservancies. It appears to me that most countries’ policing is lax, and the laws too lenient for abusers of wildlife heritage. The influx of foreign tourists to view game in Africa should serve as a lesson.

Where will our children go for game viewing in future?

The current demand for endangered species products in Asia, especially China, is unprecedented and largely driven by demand for medicinal products, such as rhino horn and tiger parts, or as a demonstration of economic and social status, through products like ivory and rhino horn carvings or tiger bone wine.

This horrific addiction to ivory and the rhino horn can be stopped. But, as long as humanity still sees either of these two wondrous animals as a form of monetary value, the senseless killing will continue unabated.

Every night many of us must carry with them the sickening heartache that across Africa 100 elephants have breathed their last –yes, every day 100 elephants, 36 000 jumbos every year. Do we have any idea of how to picture this in our minds?

Why the Chinese — presumably the second biggest economy in the world due to their industrial revolution, a country with the biggest (20% of the world) population at 1,3 billion, with the biggest investment in the US at $1,6 trillion, who have joined the space-race, have over 50 game parks for their almost extinct pandas, who once had elephant and rhino roaming their lands (killed them off), who appear to be intelligent people, but still believe that rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine will cure a multitude of ills including breast and cervical cancer.

If this was the case, then wouldn’t modern medical science have started “rhino farming” long ago if the rhino horn really cured all these medical ills?
The African rhino and elephant do not belong to the adults of this world (us) — they are the future gifts to the children of our world.

Should/shouldn’t Kenya, Gabon and Zambia be congratulated for making the point that ivory must be worthless, except as what it was meant to be in the first place: as part of an elephant?

.millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com/http://twitter.com/wisdomdzungairi

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