The translocation of surplus wildlife from a Zimbabwean park evokes mixed responses
THE international community has been asked to help Zimbabwe fund the translocation of elephants and buffaloes from its major national game park -- Hawange -- more than 600 km southwest of the capital Harare, to areas where they could be saved from starvation.
Zimbabwe's national parks, home for most of its elephants, are said to be overstocked. The country has an elephant carrying capacity of about 35,000 and ecologists say there are between 50,000 and 80,000 of them.
While some ecologists argue that the given figures are too high, the difference may be minimal and since Zimbabwe can only manage a certain number of elephants, it is important that they be translocated.
This year again, during the drought, if the teeming pachyderms are left unattended, they may perish as was the scene during the 1991-92 drought. Only a few animals were translocated in 1992 for want of enough time and planning.
It is with this in mind that the Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe was asked to coordinate all other interested ngos and individuals to raise funds for translocation. However, the Society has since withdrawn from this role which has been taken over by the ngo Elephant Rose.
As translocation is an expensive exercise, the ngos have mounted an international fund raising campaign and about us $143,000 has been raised by Elephant Rose.
But Zimbabwe, together with other countries having a large elephant population, has been cornered by terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Fauna and Flora (cites) from adopting other alternatives.
The country cannot resort to culling because it is expensive and cannot even ask for money for culling from the international community because cites does not allow funding for culling. The government on its own cannot afford to translocate the elephants because it costs over us $10,000 to move 1 elephant from one area to another.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has launched a massive investigation to count the country's elephants, rhinos and buffaloes. The exercise is aimed at enabling the government to take informed decisions on translocation. This investigation comes in the wake of the translocation tender put up by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
"Translocation is still going ahead but for a big project like that, we would have to investigate and see whether it is in the national interest to do so," newly appointed minister of tourism and environment Chen Chimutenwende said in an interview.
"When the situation we think is under control and normal, then the ministry may not necessarily need to be involved. It is a temporary administrative measure. In fact, a judicial inquiry is now on. The information we have received from so many quarters makes us doubt that the figures we have as to what actually exists are correct, and we do not want to go on selling when we are not sure of the numbers we have," he observed.
He emphasised that Zimbabwe does not want to translocate animals when it is unsure whether they will reach their destination or get sold in the process. "There have been cases of animals which were supposed to be translocated from one area to the other, and they ended up being sold. We are investigating such reports," he said.
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