By Richard Muponde
ZIMBABWE is reportedly set to lose millions of dollars in royalties after it signed a grey deal on wildlife conservation with the United States-based International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in September this year.
The deal reportedly covers a moratorium on culling of wildlife, which has a direct impact on the country as Zimbabwe’s wildlife has outgrown its carrying capacity, leading to human-animal conflicts which have so far claimed 33 lives this year.
The IFAW deal is likely to affect revenue generation from wildlife as it bans trophy hunting mostly carried out by tour operators. Trophy hunting is a US$200 million per annum industry in 23 Sub-Saharan African countries where it is practised and a US$20 million industry per annum in Zimbabwe alone.
IFAW is a global non-profit organisation that promotes co-existence between animals and people and it gets millions of United States dollars in subsidies from animal rights supporters for its operations.
The organisation, which discourages killing of wildlife, operates in more than 40 countries around the world, where it rescues, rehabilitates and releases animals as well as restore their natural habitats.
So far, about 1 500 elephants have been reported dead in Hwange National Park, although the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) has only confirmed a conservative figure of 105 jumbos.
The drought-induced deaths have even caught the eye of international media house BBC, which has sent a team into the country led by Steven Sucker, the HARDtalk anchor, who is doing a documentary about elephants deaths and human-wildlife conflicts.
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo yesterday defended the IFAW deal, saying it was a milestone achievement in terms of wildlife conservation.
“What people are saying is a lie. You should get your facts right. We just signed the deal in September and it’s too soon for you to say the country is losing money through that deal. We actually received US$1 million which we used to buy vehicles and other equipment needed for conservation,” he said.
A wildlife insider cited the Panda Masuie deal which was signed between Wild is Life, a wildlife orphanage at a farm outside Harare, with IFAW and ZimParks as one of the examples where the country was losing.
“Wild is Life/IFAW then approached forestry commission and got a 25-year lease out of them for Panda Masuie. IFAW were very quick to announce that they had taken over the area to save it from the ‘destruction caused by hunting’. Again, this would have won them great favour with the animal rights supporters and earned them a lot of money (IFAW’s income for 2018 was around US$26 million),” he said.
The insider said organisations such as IFAW and many other wildlife organisations were using Zimbabwe resources as a cash cow, but remitting nothing to the country.
“My big issue with these people is that they are making money from a Zimbabwean resource and these organisations earn their monies in USA or UK or South Africa and the money doesn’t come back to Zimbabwe,” he said.
“There is need for transparency and accountability in these protectionist NGOs. Cecil the Lion earned WildCru (NGO) over US$2 million from their clever managing of Cecil the Lion (film) production in the first few months after the event. None of that money came back to Zimbabwe. It went to fund a research project in Botswana. We need regulation whereby they must be registered and pay fees or royalties like we do.”
The source said the NGOs tell countries that are reliant on them how they must manage their wildlife and are turning clients away from Zimbabwe for fear of being victimised by animal rights activists.
A safari operator said the big question was what percentage of the country’s wildlife assets have already been sold to foreign entities.
“This is eco-colonialism at it’s worse. The foreign NGOs bring their money then begin to dictate the terms on how we manage our wildlife. Sadly, parks have sold us out for a bowl of soup only because, as Zimbabweans we do not have the freedom to utilise our wildlife resources to the full,” the operator, who requested anonymity, said.
“If we were able to trade our ivory, we would not have to enter into these deals that only put us at the mercy of the animal rights organisations and the end result is always catastrophic. Kenya is the prime example. IFAW became involved there, shut the hunting down and Kenya lost 70% of its wildlife to poaching.”
The operator said the country had the resources and the skills to manage its wildlife properly, but “only that our hands are tied by these foreign organisations who have a different agenda.”
“As an example, Wildcru (the Hwange Lion Researchers) received nearly £2 million in donations when they sensationalised the shooting of Cecil the Lion, which none of us had even heard of. None of that money came back to Zimbabwe. They exploited our assets to their own financial benefit,” he said.
“Then they criminalise hunting and yet hunting is the largest contributor to the income that pays to protect our wildlife.”