Wildlife administrators in Zimbabwe asked the U.S. government to lift a temporary ban on ivory imports from the southern African nation immediately, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said.
The U.S. banned imports of ivory from Zimbabwe and Tanzania in February, citing concern over whether the elephant populations were sustainable. Zimbabwe sent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information it requested to help decide on the ban more than six weeks ago, Caroline Washaya-Moyo, spokeswoman for the authority, said by phone yesterday from Harare, the capital.
As one of the so-called big-five African animals, elephants form an important part of Zimbabwe’s hunting industry, which earned $360.1 million from 2005 to 2009, the authority said in a paper presented to a U.S. congressional hearing June 24. The authority says the 97,500 elephants in the nation, which is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Montana, destroy trees and food supplies needed for other species.
“As yet, no effort has been made to lift the ban that they based on what they said was inadequate information,” Itai Hilary Tendaupenyu, the authority’s principal ecologist, wrote in the paper. “Now that they have had time to view the information we provided, Zimbabwe would like to see the ban lifted immediately.”
The authority receives no direct funding from the government, Tendaupenyu said.
Elephant hunting contributes more than $14 million a year and “not less than 55 percent” of the income from sport hunting goes directly to the poor, rural communities where wildlife is often their only source of income, according to the report. This type of hunting generally takes place in areas that are too hot, dry and inaccessible for agriculture, it said.
A client will pay about $30,000 in permit fees and for the hire of a professional hunter to get an elephant. A lion kill will probably cost a hunter about $55,000, according to the authority’s guidelines. The big five game animals are lions, elephants, Cape buffalos, leopards and rhinos.
Zimbabwe’s elephant population is concentrated in the northwest of the country, the Zambezi valley and the southern Lowveld region, all areas unsuitable for agriculture, the authority said.
“If hunting is no longer an economically viable form of land use, communities will choose pastoralism and unviable agriculture, which reduces habitat available for elephants,” Tendaupenyu said. “Local communities will only find an incentive to protect elephants if they can derive economic value from such a resource.”
The country has 70 metric tons of ivory stockpiles, which can’t be traded because of international obligations to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said on June 20. More than 100 elephants were poached in the Hwange game reserve last year, he said.