With global biodiversity declining rapidly, Zimbabwe’s elephant culling plan is stirring international debates. Though the IUCN considers African elephants as endangered species, Zimbabwe has been witnessing an increase in its population. Thus, authorities in the southern African country are considering the establishment of an elephant culling plan.
According to Zimbabwe’s reports, the country is a natural habitat of almost 100,000 African elephants. Thus, even though the numbers have increased since 2014, the IUCN still includes elephants on the red list of endangered species. Globally, experts estimate that there are only 415,000 African elephants left.
However, despite the global concern, Zimbabwe believes that the country has reached its full capacity of elephants. Therefore, to save other wildlife and the country’s vegetation, officials are mulling a population-control plan. Back in 1988, the country established a mass-killing plan in order to resolve a similar problem.
“We are overpopulated when it comes to elephants in this country,” declared Tinashe Farawo, spokesman of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks).
Moreover, officials are alarmed over the effect of this overpopulation. Not only is it causing habitat destruction, but the increased numbers are also increasing dangerous human-wildlife incidents.
“We have vultures that breed in trees. The vultures are no longer breeding in Hwange (National Park); they have moved to other places because elephants have the habit of knocking down trees,” Farawo said.
A concerning plan
Despite the officials’ motivations, many animal rights and environmental groups are concerned. Moreover, the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), an environmental and human rights watchdog in Zimbabwe documenting poaching, are voicing their opposition.
“Culling will eventually lead to the extinction of these elephants,” spokesperson Simiso Mlevu said. “This is just the beginning. Very soon we will be forced to travel to other countries just to see an elephant.”
Furthermore, the announcement of this plan comes after mere months of the IUCN report listing the elephants as endangered species. Back in March, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stressed the dire situation of African elephants, declaring that “Africa’s elephants play key roles in ecosystems, economies and in our collective imagination all over the world. Today’s new IUCN Red List assessments of both African elephant species underline the persistent pressures faced by these iconic animals.”
“We must urgently put an end to poaching and ensure that sufficient suitable habitat for both forest and savanna elephants is conserved. Several African countries have led the way in recent years, proving that we can reverse elephant declines, and we must work together to ensure their example can be followed,” stated Dr. Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director-General.
Additionally, the report stressed that Africa lost more than half of its savanna elephant population during the last fifty years. It also added that the number of African forest elephants dropped globally by more than 86 percent over the last 31 years.
Moving the elephants
Though moving the elephants to other African regions can provide a sustainable solution, the process is very costly. “It’s an expensive process and right now we have no money,” explained Farawo. “In 2018, we moved 100 elephants and the exercise cost us $400,000.”
ZimParks was supposed to serve as a suitable habitat for the elephants. Moreover, this government body needs at least $25m annually for conserving operations. However, the last time it received any funding was in 2001.
Selling hunting license
In April, the country announced its plan of selling hunting licenses. Not only does this plan offer a solution for overpopulation, but it also generates great revenue. Thus, depending on the size and weight of the elephant, trophy hunters will have to pay between $10,000 and $70,000 for their license,
Farawo stated that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) allows the killing of 500 elephants in such a manner. He also validates this plan since “elephants must pay for their upkeep.”
“The elephants also have to take care of themselves, so we must be allowed to trade in order for that to happen,” Farawo said. “[This] means that money must be generated, revenue coming off the elephants. Right now, tourism is dead, so people aren’t coming to see the elephants.”
However, this plan is raising more red flags than the original culling plan. According to John Robertson, a prominent Zimbabwean economist, the culling will create a chain of reactions affecting tourism and its revenue.
“It inflicts serious damage on wildlife,” Robertsons said. “Losing wildlife also reduces the prospects of tourism, which the country heavily relies on.”