HARARE – Members of Parliament have urged the government to find a way of exporting a large number of elephants to avoid having to cull the animals, which they say are threatening communities neighbouring the country’s biggest game park.
Hwange National Park, which, at 14 651 square km, has about 45 000 elephants and that population is growing by 5% a year.
That equates to three times the number the park in north-western Zimbabwe can sustainably hold, lawmakers said in a parliamentary report obtained by Bloomberg.
Elephants, which can eat 136kg of food each a day, are destroying vegetation in the park and damaging the crops and livelihoods of neighbouring communities, they said.
If markets cannot be found for the animals, with exports to China already planned, the government will have to resort to cull or contraception, the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment, Water and Tourism said in the report.
“A quick win and low-hanging fruit could be the sale and exportation of live elephants,” the committee said.
“The committee urgently urges the government to identify vibrant markets that will be able to absorb large elephant sales.”
The sale of elephants, which according to park officials could fetch between $40 000 and $60 000 each, has been criticised by animal rights organisations concerned at the stress the animals will endure when caught and separated from family units as well as their well-being in new homes.
Still, Hwange and other parks in Zimbabwe are short of funds needed for ranger salaries and general upkeep due to an economic crisis that has cut the size of the economy by half, according to a government estimate, since 2000.
“The country will realise significant revenue from elephant exports, and such revenue can be used to enhance conservation and sustainable wildlife management programs,” the committee said.
Elephant exports are permissible under rules adopted by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the lawmakers said.
Alternatively, the animals may have to be killed, lawmakers said. Between 1960 and 1998, 46 000 elephants were culled in Hwange. The practice has been abandoned in Zimbabwe and other countries after protests by animal-rights activists.
“This approach requires a definite institutional mind-set that its pro-culling,” the committee said. “In Hwange National Park, the number of elephants is so large that one of the only realistic ways of bringing the population under control is culling.”
While contraception by darting could be considered, translocation of elephants within the country would be too expensive, lawmakers said.
While African elephants are considered endangered, with about 470 000 left in the wild in 37 countries, about 300 000 of them live in the Southern African countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
The report’s findings follow a tour by lawmakers to the park on Janaury 13 to 16. Lawmakers were drawn from the ruling Zimbabwe African Union Patriotic Front and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.
The rights of local communities need to be taken into account, they said.
“It was apparent and crystal clear that communities were living under siege from elephants and other wild animals,” the committee said. “Communities were very emotional about the threat posed by elephants.”