Zimbabwean Hunters Count Costs of U.S. Ban on Elephant Ivory

As professional hunter Cliff Walker sets out before dawn in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River valley to find a lion for his U.S. client, he has elephants on his mind.

Walker, 37, says a U.S. ban on ivory imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania in February may cost him tens of thousands of dollars. While Gavin Shire, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Services, said last month that the ban was “temporary,” Walker thinks it will dissuade clients from coming to the southern African nation.

“I had six quotas for elephant trophy hunts for American clients,” Walker said in an interview last month in the Matetsi Lot 1 in northwestern Zimbabwe near Victoria Falls. “I spent a lot of money to get those quotas.”

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director-General Edison Chidziya traveled to Washington last week to lobby against the ban, which government officials say will cost the southern African nation vital foreign exchange. Before the ban, Zimbabwe was expecting to earn about $60 million from trophy hunting this year, up from $45 million last year.

“We are still awaiting their feedback,” Chidziya said yesterday in a phone interview from Harare, the capital.

The U.S. government banned ivory imports from Zimbabwe because it “does not have sufficient information” on the number of elephants in Zimbabwe to determine if population of the animals is sustainable, Shire said in an April 22 e-mailed statement.

Russian Market

“We were caught napping by the U.S. ban as we didn’t anticipate it,” Langton Masunda, chairman of Hwange-Gwayi-Dete Conservancy in Matabeleland North province, said in a telephone interview. “We now have to look at Russian and Chinese markets, and at other nationalities interested in sport hunting instead of relying on Americans who think they are the only ones with the big bucks.”

Zimbabwe’s hunters, who undergo some of the most rigorous training in Africa, can earn as much as $2,000 a day helping clients from America, Eastern Europe and Spain shoot anything from antelope to lion and elephant, according to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.

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 likely cost a hunter about $55,000, according to the authority’s guidelines.

Foreign hunters aren’t permitted to shoot in the country unless accompanied by a Zimbabwe-qualified professional. Rangers from the Wildlife department are also with them to ensure quotas are respected and restrictions on killing females and young animals aren’t broken.

Elephant Damage

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority says the 100,000 elephants in the country, which is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Montana, destroy trees and food supplies needed for other species. Only neighboring Botswana, with a population of about 120,000, has more of the pachyderms.

Zimbabwe is allowed to export 500 elephant trophies a year by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

“If you dropped 80,000 to 100,000 elephants in California, they might learn pretty damned quick that you need some balance,” retired professional hunter Alec Robinson said in a telephone interview from the northern resort town of Kariba.

Conservation Efforts

Jerry Gotora, chairman of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, said the U.S. ban won’t helping conservation efforts.

“This ban just encourages poachers,” he said by phone. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Elephant conservation will utimately suffer from the ban, according to Lampies Bredenkamp, a Johannesburg-based real estate agent who hunts every year in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa. Where hunting is allowed, such as in southern Africa, populations are healthy, while in Kenya, where it’s banned, the species is under threat, he said.

“As soon as you ban hunting, there’s no income for the people and they resort to poaching,” he said by phone from Johannesburg.

Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, said he believed the ivory ban was an extension of U.S. sanctions against members of President Robert Mugabe’s government and ruling party over alleged human rights violations.

“It’s very unfortunate that they’ve extended their sanctions to animals as well,” he said in a telephone interview.

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