Drought ignites human-wildlife conflict in Zimbabwe


Taken on November 12, 2019 it shows the carcass of an elephant that succumbed to drought in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabw
Taken on November 12, 2019 it shows the carcass of an elephant that succumbed to drought in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwean villager Dumisani Khumalo appeared to be in pain as he walked gingerly towards a chair under the shade of a tree near his one-room brick shack.

Wild  in Zimbabwe were responsible for the deaths of at least 36 people in 2019, up from 20 in the previous year.

“I thank God that I survived the attack,” said Khumalo with a laugh, making light of the fact that the buffalo almost ripped off his genitals.

Authorities recorded 311 animal attacks on people last year, up from 195 in 2018.

The attacks have been blamed on a devastating drought in Zimbabwe which has seen hungry animals breaking out of game reserves, raiding  in search of food and water.

“The cases include attacks on humans, their livestock and crops,” said national parks spokesman Tinashe Farawo.

He said elephants caused most fatalities, while hippos, buffalos, lions, hyenas and crocodile also contributed to the toll.

Hwange National Park, which is half the size of Belgium, is Zimbabwe’s largest game park and is situated next to the famed Victoria Falls. The park is not fenced off.

Animals breach the buffer and “cross over to look for water and food as there is little or none left in the forest area,” Farawo said

Starving animals

Khumalo vividly remembers the attack.

More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year
More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year

He was walking in a forest near his Ndlovu-Kachechete village to register for food aid, when he heard dogs barking.

Suddenly a buffalo emerged from the bush and charged, hitting him in the chest and tossing him to the ground.

It went for his groin and used its horn to rip off part of the skin around his penis.

Khumalo grabbed the buffalo’s leg, kicked it in the eye and it scampered off.

Villagers in Zimbabwe’s wildlife-rich but parched northwestern region are frequently fighting off desperately hungry game.

More than 200 elephants starved to death over three months last year.

Despite suspecting that Khumalo was hunting illegally when he was attacked, Phindile Ncube, CEO of Hwange Rural District Council admitted that  are killing people and that the drought has worsened things.

“Wild animals cross into human-inhabited areas in search of water as … sources of drinking water dry up in the forest,” said Ncube.

He described an incident that took place a few weeks earlier, during which elephants killed two cows at a domestic water well.

Armed scouts have been put on standby to respond to distress calls from villagers.

But it was while responding to one such call that the scouts inadvertently shot dead a 61-year-old woman in Mbizha village, close to Khumalo’s.

“As they tried to chase them off one (elephant) charged at them and a scout shot at it. He missed, and the stray bullet hit and killed Irene Musaka, who was sitting by a fire outside her hut almost a mile away.”

In this file photo taken on November 12, 2019 a hippo is stuck in the mud at a drying watering hole in the Hwange National Park,
In this file photo taken on November 12, 2019 a hippo is stuck in the mud at a drying watering hole in the Hwange National Park, in Zimbabwe.

Chilli cake repellant

Locals are encouraged to play their part to scare off animals. One way is to beat drums.

But the impact is limited.

“Animals, such as elephants get used to the noise and know it… won’t hurt them, so it does not deter them in the long term,” said George Mapuvire, director of Bio-Hub Trust, a charity that trains people to respond to .

Bio-Hub Trust advocates for a “soft approach” that encourages peaceful co-existence between humans and wildlife.

Mapuvire suggested burning home-made hot chilli cakes to repel wildlife.

“You mix chilli powder with cow or elephant dung and shape it into bricks, once the bricks dry, you can burn them when elephants are approaching. They can’t stand the smell!”

Villagers have created an elephant alarm system by tying strings of empty tin cans to trees and poles.

When the cans click, they know an elephant is approaching and they light chilli cakes to keep it away.

Another way of keeping  at bay is the chilli gun, a plastic contraption loaded with ping-pong balls injected with chilli oil.

“When it hits an elephant, it disintegrates, splashing the animal with the chilli oil,” Mapuvire explained.

Young elephants were taken from their mothers in Zimbabwe. Now they’re in cages in China

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (CNN)The cellphone footage reveals rows of steel cells stretching along a concrete floor. Behind each set of bars, a juvenile African elephant, their tusks just barely showing. One elephant presses its head into the corner of its prison-like confinement.

Zimbabwean officials legally captured these highly intelligent and social animals in Hwange National Park. Now, they will be broken and put on display for tourists in China.
By the end of this month, as more and more experts weigh in on the deep trauma suffered by captured elephants, a treaty governing international animal trade will halt the export of live elephants from Zimbabwe and other countries in Southern Africa.
Activists say they fear that the opaque trade could now move underground.
A screenshot taken from cellphone footage shows a caged young elephant in China.

Stuck in a holding pen

A vast park on Zimbabwe’s westernmost frontier, Hwange is one of the continent’s best spots for seeing giant elephant herds.
But few of the tourists entering the main gate are aware that just a few miles away to the southeast is a large boma compound, notorious among animal rights groups as the center of Zimbabwe’s efforts to sell elephants.
Armed with satellite coordinates provided by a source, we drove to the edge of the compound to try and see the elephants allegedly still inside.
“I have no idea about that,” a manager says, when asked about the elephant boma, a kind of holding pen before translocation.
We were quickly asked to leave, but Chrispen Chikadaya, a senior inspector with the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA), is one of the few people who has gotten inside.
Chikadaya began hearing the rumors late last year that park authorities were rounding up breeding herds and capturing juveniles for export.
Witnesses told him that wranglers were grabbing elephants old enough to survive without their mother’s milk, but small enough to squeeze into a freight box to China.
“They experience severe stress; they don’t have the freedom they have to move around like they do in the wild. If you put them in cages, you have now taken away the wild in them,” says Chikadaya.
Footage courtesy of Humane Society International released earlier this year.
Video released by Humane Society International shows the young mammals pacing back and forth, behavior often exhibited by stressed elephants. Predictably, the images sparked outrage.
“This is fiction. People act like we don’t love these animals, that we are abusing them. It is not true, because we are looking after our animals very well,” says Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).
He says that Zimbabwe has legally translocated animals to zoos, circuses and sanctuaries for decades without much fuss.
“We have moved animals to the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. This is not a new phenomenon in this country,” he says. “We think people should be scientific and ask what the facts are, not the emotions.”

Intelligent and sociable animals

Well-known elephant biologist Joyce Poole scoffs at the emotion-versus-science argument.
After studying elephants in the field for decades, she believes that they are uniquely intelligent and ill-suited for confinement.
“Some critics say we are ascribing human characteristics towards elephant, but we are not. These are elephant characteristics. They are capable of empathy, of self-awareness, understanding death and compassion. This is the kind of scientific evidence that Zimbabwe is ignoring,” Poole says.
She says, like us, elephants are highly social animals — confine them and they get bored, depressed, aggressive and sick.
“Through the course of evolution, they have developed these really close social bonds. If you take that away from an elephant, you destroy it,” says Poole.
On average, elephants die much younger in captivity, are less fertile, and suffer more from ailments like arthritis.
“Some animals are suitable and may even prosper in captive situations and zoos, because their biological needs are met. As for elephants, the needs are so beyond the scale of any zoo I have seen, that none of them are appropriate or suitable as a destination,” says Keith Lindsay, an elephant biologist who has studied zoo conditions.
As scientists learn more about elephants, public attitudes and policy have begun to change. In the US, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses stopped using elephants in 2016 — a year before the company shut its doors for good.

Stuck in limbo

In June, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the country needed to sell wild elephants to fund its conservation efforts.
Back in May, the government revealed it had made $2.7 million from the sale of 90 elephants to Dubai and China.
In recent years, Zimbabwe has found ready buyers in China for their live elephant trade, but the ZNSPCA says the details of those deals and the conditions of the confined animals have been deliberately obscured.
Chikadaya says when he first inspected the elephants, in Hwange, slated for export back in 2018, inspectors were told by park officials that the elephants would be moved within a month, but they were kept in a boma for nearly a year.
In October, word got out that officials were preparing to ship the elephants, and the ZNSPCA team rushed back to Hwange. After the seven-hour drive, they were forcibly barred from the boma, despite their legal mandate to inspect captive animals. Zimpark officials say that they didn’t have the right paperwork, but their inspectors are, in fact, free to inspect whenever they want.
The ZNSPCA says that the following morning the elephants were crammed into crates and spirited out of the park as their inspection team slept.
“It all should be transparent,” says Chikadaya. “We should know that our animals are being translocated. And we need to know what benefit it has for conservation.”
Zimparks did eventually release basic information on where the elephants went and what they bought with the money — their spokesman says there is no issue of transparency, adding they bought everything from vehicles to uniforms with the proceeds.

A vast park without resources

With about a third of Zimbabweans surviving on food aid during the lean season, many would view the fate of about 30 elephants the equivalent of “first world problems.”
Ultimately, Hwange is expected to pay for itself. They do that with tourist dollars and, says Farawo, by selling elephants.
“We believe that elephants must pay for their upkeep. They must also pay for their protection,” he says, adding that Hwange has elephants to spare, with somewhere between 45,000 to 53,000 in the park — far more than the park’s environment can sustain.
Patrick Sibanda, a veteran ranger of the park, says each year the rains are coming later and later.
He says that around 200 elephants have died from thirst and hunger since October alone.
An elephant carcass in Hwange. A severe drought that has drained water sources in Zimbabwe's largest national park, resulting in a number of elephant deaths.

“It’s very bad. So many elephants have died this year,” says Sibanda, as he walks towards a carcass near a water hole.
“This young elephant came to drink, but I think it was exhausted,” he says. The elephant injured itself at the water trough, he says, and a pride of lions attacked it. On the other side of a dirt track, another elephant carcass lies under an acacia tree
The drought is one of the main arguments put forward for selling elephants to China by Zimparks. They say they need money to repair artificial water holes to save elephants.
“There is no water, there is no habitat, there is climate change. These things are real,” says Farawo
Biologists like Poole say they should instead gradually reduce elephant numbers by reducing the water points, not unnaturally prop up the numbers. But she concedes that there aren’t any easy options for Zimbabwe.

The end of the trade

In the next few days, Zimbabwe will no longer be allowed to sell its elephant to China or anywhere else where African elephants don’t naturally exist.
The decision was taken at a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Geneva earlier this year, backed by a coalition of African nations and the European Union. Members of the international treaty governing the international sale of animal products approved the ban.
The move was lauded by conservation activists, but slammed in Zimbabwe, where they say they will lose a key revenue stream. Zimparks says they will abide by the treaty for now, but Zimbabwe’s President has already hinted in state media that they could withdraw from the agreement. Activists, meanwhile, worry that the sales will just move underground.
After the elephants left for China in October, there were rumors that several were left behind, too big to fit in the crates after the extended confinement.
Zimparks flatly denied that any were left in the boma.
But after winning a court battle, the ZNSPCA gained access just a few days ago. They found two emaciated young elephants struggling inside the translocation compound.
Chikadaya understands that the parks desperately need funds but says there has to be another way. He says the lack of transparency from the government and the trauma faced by the elephants, both here in Zimbabwe and thousands of miles away in zoos across the world, just can’t be worth it.
“Our wildlife belongs to Zimbabweans. It doesn’t belong to one person; it doesn’t belong to an organization. It belongs to our ancestors. It belongs to our children, to our parents, to our grandchildren,” he says.

Elephant Rides Are Now Banned at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat

After pressure from animal rights groups, the temples’ management group decided to stop offering elephant rides to tourists.



NOVEMBER 18, 2019


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Cambodia’s most famous tourist attraction, Angkor Wat, will ban elephant rides around the ancient temples, beginning next year.

After pressure from animal rights groups, the temples’ management group decided to stop offering elephant rides to tourists.

To start the initiative, two of the 14 elephants that lived and worked at Angkor Archaeological Park were moved to the nearby Bos Tham forest last week, according to the Khmer Times.

The rest of the elephants that are in Angkor Wat will be transferred to the forest by early 2020. Visitors will be able to see the animals there but they will not be permitted to ride as the elephants will continue to be under the care of the company that currently owns them.

Tourists riding elephants in Angkor Wat

“The elephant is a big animal, but it is also gentle and we don’t want to see the animals being used for tourism activities anymore,” Long Kosal, a spokesperson for the park’s management company, told Khmer Times. “We want them to live in their natural surroundings.”

Elephants have been at Angkor Wat since the practice of ferrying tourists around started in 2001.

In 2016, an elephant named Sambo died at the park, due to a heart attack triggered by heatstroke and exhaustion. Her death prompted an online petition to end elephant riding at Angkor Wat, which earned more than 185,000 signatures.

The World Wildlife Fund published a report last year, stating that the number of Asian elephants has decreased 50 percent in the last three generations. There are less than 50,000 that live in the wild and they are officially listed as an endangered species.

If you visit Angkor Wat, check out Travel + Leisure’s tips for seeing the popular site without battling other tourists for a view.

‘Fantastic day for elephants’: court rejects ivory ban challenge

Antique dealers fail in high court bid to overturn world-leading blanket ban on

Owen Bowcott
Tue 5 Nov 2019 17.45 GMT First published on Tue 5 Nov 2019 15.17 GMT

Antique dealers have failed in an attempt to overturn a total ban on ivory
trading being introduced by the government after the high court ruled the
legislation did not breach European law.

Conservation groups, who argued that any dilution of the ban would
revitalise illegal elephant poaching, welcomed the decision, which they said
would preserve the UK’s position as a world leader in the fight against the
ivory trade.

Last month, a small number of antique dealers challenged the ban in the high
court, arguing that sales of “cultural heritage” objects had no impact on
the market for illegally plundered tusks.

The 2018 Ivory Act, which attracted cross-party support, has yet to come
into force. It criminalises trade in all ivory artefacts with a few artistic
exemptions. The prohibition was championed by the former environment
secretary Michael Gove, who pledged to introduce “one of the world’s
toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations”.

The high court claim was brought in the name of a newly formed company,
Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (Fact), but funds were channelled via
the British Antique Dealers’ Association (Bada). The dealers also said the
ban undermined the European convention on human rights by interfering with
individuals’ property rights.

Responding to the judgment, Mary Rice, the chief executive of the
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “This is a victory for
common sense and one which maintains the UK’s position as a global leader
when it comes to fighting the illegal ivory trade.”

The EIA is part of a coalition of 11 conservation organisations that
supported the Ivory Act, arguing that any legal trade in ivory provides
cover for the illegal trade because it is difficult to distinguish between
antique and newly carved ivory. The UK is one of the world’s leading
exporters of antique ivory, particularly to China and Hong Kong.

The environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, said: “I welcome today’s ruling
by the high court which upholds the UK’s commitment to ban the ivory trade.

“We will move forward and make sure the ban comes into operation as soon as
possible to protect wildlife and the environment.”

The European commission is considering further restrictions on ivory trade
across the EU, based in part on the UK’s Ivory Act. Other countries, such as
Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are considering,
similar legislation.

John Stephenson, the chief executive of the campaign group Stop Ivory, said:
“Challenges to the new legislation fly in the face of British public
opinion, which increasingly puts the conservation of nature before profit.
We hope that’s the end of the matter and that the government can get on with
implementing the act, without further distractions.”

Conservationists estimate that 55 African elephants are poached every day,
which they say is an unsustainable rate of loss. David Cowdrey, the head of
policy and campaigns at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “We
are delighted to hear that the high court has rejected the antiques lobby’s
bid to overturn the Ivory Act. It is a fantastic day for elephants, and for
everyone that has fought so hard to make the UK’s ivory ban one of the
toughest in the world.”

Top international biologists and planners call for an end to elephants in captivity

By Don Pinnock• 10 September 2019

Photo: Unsplash/ Timothy K
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An international conference of elephant experts has condemned the capture and confinement of elephants and has called on zoos to release and reintegrate them into the wild or relocate them to sanctuaries where they can live a more normal life.

Holding elephants in captivity causes them enormous stress and constitutes cruelty. Capturing wild elephants and removing them from their families is unacceptable. Captivity is simply unsuitable for elephants.

This was the overall agreement at a conference in Hermanus on 6 September 2019 attended by elephant specialists from Kenya, Zimbabwe, the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Africa. They were seeking to work out a framework and policy guidelines for dealing with elephants in captivity.

The conference, Taking the Elephant out of the Room, was organised by the EMS Foundation and followed the historic ruling by the United Nations wildlife trade organisation, CITES, prohibiting wild-caught elephants from being held in captive facilities.

The conference was opened by Chief Steven Fritz of the Khoi Council.

“Elephants are sacred to the Khoisan First Nation people,” Fritz told delegates. “What you do to them you do to us. If you enslave elephants you enslave the Khoisan nation. Like us, they are First Nations. They’re our rainmakers and have been with us from before memory. For this reason my people have resolved to unite to protect them from cruelty and killing.”

For Kenyan elephant ethologist and conservation biologist Dr Joyce Poole, who has conducted groundbreaking elephant research in Amboseli National Park, confinement even in the best facility constituted extreme cruelty.

“In a single day, an elephant may socialise with hundreds of individuals. Relationships radiate out from a mother-offspring bond through families, clans, subpopulations. Independent males form long-term friendships.

“Elephants communicate through more than 300 gestures, complex speech and glandular secretions. They contemplate, negotiate, collaborate, plan and are aware of death. They care about their lives and are more like us than we realise.

“What happens when we remove all intellectual stimulation? In confinement, without companions, an elephant has no purpose. Captive elephants lack the very foundation of elephant life. It is utterly wrong to confine them.”

Biologist Dr Keith Lindsay, whose conservation work began in Amboseli in 1977, outlined the centrality of elephants in ecosystem health.

“They’re a keystone species, essential components in an ecosystem. If you take the keystone out of an arch it collapses. They’re ecological engineers upon which many other species depend. They bring down trees to browse level, they open paths in the forest, they find salt licks, they open space for grazers and disperse seeds. The wild is where they belong.”
Pictures of African elephants taken at Karachi Safari Park in Pakistan in January 2019. Photo: Ban Animal Trading

Advocate Jim Karani of WildlifeDirect in Kenya said the important question is not “can animals reason or talk, but can they suffer?”. Our confinement of elephants shows they can and do.

“There’s a body of research that proves there’s no conservation-education value to the use of elephants in zoos,” he said.
“They are miserable and tell us nothing. Their only use is to take a selfie and walk away.

“The law has a duty to protect all sentient beings and in zoos there are serious welfare concerns about the treatment of non-human persons. An animal has a right of protection against needless pain and suffering.

“Confining and isolating an elephant is not the way to treat a sentient being. They’re not merely property. They should be granted rights as legal non-human persons, as corporations are.”

Marion Garai of the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group provided the statistics. There are presently 1,770 elephants worldwide in captive facilities, of which 1,491 are in zoos. Most of these are in the United States, followed by China, Germany and Japan. Just under 100 facilities hold a single, lonely elephant.

Several speakers detailed the extreme stress caused to elephants by capture and confinement.

Audrey Delsink of Humane Society International-Africa said capturing baby elephants – as Zimbabwe continues to do – causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can last decades. This was confirmed by Dr Gay Bradshaw of the Kerulus Centre for Nonviolence in the United States, whose work has led to the field of trans-species psychology.
Pictures of African elephants taken at Karachi Safari Park in Pakistan in January 2019. Photo: Ban Animal Trading

“There is an epidemic of PTSD among elephants in captivity,” she said.
“Elephants share with humans the same brain, same consciousness and the same vulnerability to trauma. They can experience psychological and social breakdown. Trauma spreads from parent to child, neighbour to neighbour.

“If we ‘save’ elephants from extinction by confining them, they will be elephants in body only but psychologically extinct. We have to end killing and captivity and restore ancestral habitats. That holds true for all wildlife on every continent and in every ocean.”

Wildlife management specialist Dr Yolanda Pretorius explained the negative effect humans have on elephants, from fencing, manipulation and noise to capture, confinement and cruel training.

“All this causes trauma and impacts on their welfare. The less people have to do with elephants the better it is for elephants. But there’s almost no place left on Earth for this to happen.

“In captivity elephants are less aware, they move slowly, they seem to droop. If you’ve worked with elephants you can see their depression, their sadness. So we have to work out our future relationship with elephants very carefully.”

Lynn James of SPCA Zimbabwe and environmental lawyer Lenin Chisaira outlined the traumatic impact of the live capture of baby elephants in Zimbabwe. Adults are driven off by helicopter and the exhausted babies grabbed and bundled into trucks for export, mainly to Dubai and China.
They showed heartbreaking undercover footage of terrified youngsters being pushed and kicked to “move up” while loading into trucks.

Professor David Bilchitz of Animal Law Reform SA explored the legal perspective of South Africa’s engagement with elephants. He noted that the way sustainable use of wildlife was used in South Africa was to focus on the species as a whole and allow for the sacrifice of many individuals. This allows individuals to be objectified and exploited rather than respected and well stewarded.

An integrative approach, on the other hand, he said, would focus on the individual and the species: showing respect for both the individual and the survival of the species.

“Trophy hunters, for example, would say it works to the benefit of the whole by bringing in revenue to conserve the species. However, can we justify serious harm for the individual animal for the greater good?

“An integrative approach would reject the view that this advances conservation. It would argue that respect for individuals advances their conservation.

“I would adopt this position as this is the only approach that ensures the long-term goals of both positions. Only our respect for animals will ensure their long-term survival.”

Elephant researcher Antoinette van de Water has been working on the value of elephants in society and searching for the narratives needed to make them more important in order to change exploitative practices.

“We have to find goals that are good for both humans and elephants. What are the drivers of peaceful coexistence? In this, cultural values are important and we must work with affected communities whose problems get heard. Putting a price tag on elephants is not the way.”

Kahindi Lekalhaile of the African Network for Animal Welfare insisted that captivity of elephants was not a method of conservation. Captivity isn’t just about space, he said. It denies them social interaction and that is a great injustice.

“Because elephants in zoos do not live long, however, there is a constant demand for replacements from the wild. This is a threat to wild populations.

“Worldwide, most captive elephants are still wild-caught. We can look into artificial insemination,” he said. “But capturing young elephants for export to zoos should never happen. There should be no international movement of elephants.

“But what do we actually do about elephants who are already in captivity? We should think deeply about releasing them into the wild.
Where are these wilds? They are diminishing. And should we be releasing traumatised elephants? Let’s keep them in natural sanctuaries.”

Brett Mitchell of the Elephant Reintegration Trust outlined the steps necessary to integrate captive elephants into the wild, a process, he said, that can take many years. For a few deeply traumatised elephants it may not be possible. But he mentioned a group of elephants which were released from a holding boma into the wild that never went back, not once.

In concluding discussions it was unanimously agreed that no new elephants should be placed in captivity and that elephants currently in captivity should be placed in as free and natural environments as possible and not penned for human pleasure.

A policy framework will be developed from the conference inputs and discussion. DM

The conference was live-streamed and can be viewed here:






Southern African nations threaten to quit wildlife trade monitor

01 Sep 2019, 17:40 GMT+10

US must stand against capturing baby African elephants for zoos and circuses


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US must stand against capturing baby African elephants for zoos and circuses © Getty Images Baby African elephants won a historic reprieve at the world’s largest wildlife trade conference last week when delegates voted in committee to end the barbaric practice of capturing live elephants from the wild and shipping them off to zoos, wildlife parks and circuses, where they spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

At the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES) in Geneva, 46-member countries voted to restrict trade in live elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana to conservation programs or to secure areas in the elephants’ natural range — except in cases of temporary, emergency transfers. This would shut down the pipeline for elephants to be sold into captivity to foreign countries.

However, this debate is not over. At a CITES plenary meeting scheduled for Tuesday, the issue may be reopened for discussion, triggering a second vote. Shamefully, the United States voted against the ban the first time and will likely do so again if the parties call for a second vote.

Similarly, the European Union spoke against the ban and may seek to overturn it. The 28-nation bloc, which has significant voting power, was prevented from casting votes earlier because not all members were credentialed at the time. Since then, delegates have faced intense lobbying pressure from China, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and zoo associations trying to flip the vote.

Elephants are social and emotional creatures that form strong family bonds and suffer tremendously in captivity, both physically and psychologically. Elephants often face horrific abuse during the capture process. Footage of wild-caught baby elephants, newly snatched from their mothers, shows them being beaten and kicked as they await export from Zimbabwe. From a helicopter, captors shoot tranquilizer darts at the young elephants, and then maneuver the chopper to drive away the rest of the herd. Some elephants die while waiting to be shipped, in transit or upon arrival at their destination.

Elephants who do survive the long journey have been observed living in dark, barren cells in holding facilities and zoos — in contrast to roaming the vast African wilderness with family groups and larger clans.

Moreover, the export of live wild elephants serves no credible conservation purpose and has been condemned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the 31 African countries that belong to the African Elephant Coalition, and by many prominent elephant biologists.

Yet, since 2012, Zimbabwe has captured and exported more than 100 baby elephants to Chinese zoos and entertainment venues. Very young elephants are pursued due to their small size, which makes them easier to transport. Recently, we learned that Zimbabwe has begun targeting infants as young as eight months old. Such captures have far-reaching consequences, damaging individuals, families, larger social groups, and ecological health.

Some countries, zoos and zoo associations mistakenly believe that this proposal would prevent zoos from sending their legally acquired elephants to other zoos, circuses or sanctuaries in other countries.
This is simply not true. The proposal would not apply retroactively, which means that if an elephant was imported legally in the past, that animal could be exported legally in the future.

By voting against this proposal, the United States is disregarding the growing public opposition to this cruel practice, which harms elephant welfare and fails to promote elephant conservation.

We urge U.S. delegates not to seek to overturn the decision. If the proposed ban is reopened for a vote this week, the United States should throw its weight behind this proposal or — at the very least — abstain from voting.

A “yes” vote would reflect the position held by a majority of U.S.
citizens, African elephant range states and leading elephant experts.
Without U.S. leadership on this issue, elephant calves from Zimbabwe and Botswana may continue to be stolen from the wild and conscripted into a lifetime of captivity

Johanna Hamburger is a wildlife attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Welfare Institute who is attending CITES this week.


Botswana brings back trophy hunting


Ross Harvey


31st May 2019

Botswana has now committed to a policy built on myths, while the rest of the world takes stock of the implications ecological crisis.

Botswana’s Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism has recently announced that “the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension.”

The country’s new president, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, recently hosted a summit in Kasane for five southern African heads of state whose countries are home to roughly half the world’s remaining elephant population.

The purpose was to forge a common regional strategy for elephant conservation in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA). Though the strategy does not explicitly mention hunting, it paves the way for justifying it. The conference itself was in large part an exercise towards that end.

Consumptive use

Since Masisi took over the reins from Ian Khama – a lone voice in the region against trophy hunting and trading ivory – he has been angling to rescind the hunting moratorium.

Critics suggest that this is an attempt to retain the rural vote for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in this year’s elections, as the party has been struggling over the last decade to retain this vital element of the electorate.

Under the banner of ‘consumptive use’ – the idea that an animal will only be conserved if it is hunted or its parts are traded for cash – hunting was defended at the Kasane Conference as a silver bullet for elephant conservation. Speakers and ministers expounded myths that the world – and most African Elephant range states – have largely turned their backs on.

First, Kitso Mokaila, Botswana’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, claimed that Botswana’s elephant population has surged to 160,000, from 55,000 in 1991.

This is the subtext for the claim that there are ‘too many elephants.’ But it is false on both fronts.

Carrying capacity

In 1983, Botswana’s elephant population numbered between 70,000 and 75,000. It had certainly not dropped to 55,000 by 1991.

The minister may have done well to consult the latest scientific survey of Northern Botswana, which estimates the population to be roughly 126,114. This is where the majority of elephants reside, so a generous reading of the entire country might be just above 130,000.

This figure is not materially different from the 2014 figure. In other words, the population is stable, not growing.

A second myth: Botswana has exceeded its ‘carrying capacity’ of 54,000 elephants.

This has become an expedient cover under which to justify elephant trophy hunting and even culling. The entire concept of ‘carrying capacity’ is arbitrary. It has no relevance for vast, unfenced wilderness landscapes that adapt and maintain integrity without human intervention.

Ecological benefits 

Ian McDonald has stated that the idea of a carrying capacity of 0.4 elephants per square kilometre derives from an outdated “Hwange Game Reserve management policy that had no scientific basis”.

Scholars Phyllis Lee, Keith Lindsay and Katarzyna Nowak write: “Much of the research community, and many managers, accept that ecosystem structure and function are not about elephant numbers but instead about elephant distribution across a landscape and in relation to plant communities.”

A large number of scientists wrote in Ambio that they did not see “any ecological reason to artificially change the number of elephants in Chobe National Park, either through culling or opening new dry season ranges.”

What matters is not “carrying capacity” but dispersion and concentration. A high density of elephants in one area may prove to result in some ‘undesirable’ vegetation transformation, which is a good reason for keeping migratory corridors open (no fences).

Even where apparent vegetation transformation occurs, however, the ecological benefits of keeping elephants as keystone herbivores should never be underestimated. They deposit seeds up to 90km away from areas in which they feed, regenerating vegetation elsewhere and creating corridors for other animals to use.

Transferring knowledge

A third myth: hunting will solve the “population explosion problem”. Ignoring for a second that the population is stable – and potentially in decline – the truth is that hunting only decimates the big tuskers, reducing genetic diversity.

Trophy hunting is typically rationalised on the grounds that it only eliminates old bulls that are ‘surplus’ to herd requirements. Such small-scale elimination is, however, incapable of controlling an ‘exploding’ population, especially given that Botswana’s annual trophy export quota was only ever between 420 and 800 elephants in the decade preceding the moratorium.

Moreover, there is no such thing as ‘surplus’ bull elephants. Dr Michelle Henley writes that “in the past, bulls over 50 years of age were considered redundant but more recent studies have found that bulls do not reach their sexual prime until they are over 45 years old.”

She also notes that older bulls, because they have protracted musth cycles, “often suppress the musth cycles of younger bulls, thereby maintaining social stability and lowering younger bulls’ aggression towards other species such as rhinoceros.”

They are thus critical for ensuring functional herd sociology, transferring knowledge and disciplining delinquent behaviour among juvenile males.

Arbitrary quotas

Hunting is a fundamentally unsustainable activity, as the incentives are loaded in favour of over-consumption and rule-breaking.

As Botswana veteran Mike Gunn puts it: “Anyone who knows anything about hunting cannot honestly claim that a hunter, tracking a trophy bull with his client, upon finding a young bull carrying large tusks, would try to dissuade his client from shooting it.”

Hunting quotas tend to be arbitrarily determined by the hunters themselves and over-exploited, which violates the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ principle.

Hunting will therefore never solve a population problem, but it does destroy herd sociology and ensures that big tuskers are being shot out.

In this respect, hunters are aiding the poachers – undermining, not supporting, conservation.

Colonial hunting 

Fourth, it’s simply not true that bringing back hunting will solve human and elephant conflict (HEC) and increase benefits to local communities.

The fact is that hunting would only solve HEC if it were able to keep elephants within protected areas and reduce the scarcity of resources, such as water, especially during prolonged drought.

Part of the argument is that hunting generates revenue that accrues directly to local communities and thus disincentivises both poaching and the killing of errant crop-raiders. Ironically, however, hunting is rooted in a colonial anthropology that castigated indigenous people groups as ‘poachers’ and colonialists as ‘hunter-conservationists’.

So, the colonial hunting fraternity established fortress conservation, which displaced and disempowered local communities, but now paints itself as the saviour of conservation and communities.

HEC can be mitigated through bee and chilli solutions, or some combination thereof. Safe migratory corridors can also be established in which human settlement is limited.

Marginal lands

Ultimately, if communities are empowered to earn and receive benefits from elephants being alive, HEC might become negligible. Hunting is not the answer, as the global hunting industry is in decline and is fundamentally unsustainable in open systems.

While the hunting lobby argues that photography is not viable in ‘marginal lands’, Mike Gunn reports that the establishment of Thobolo’s Bush Lodge has falsified this hypothesis.

Hunting makes elephants skittish and herds them, in large numbers, into small safe areas. To the contrary, photography-based lodges present no threat to elephants, provide water during drought, and therefore allow dispersion that results in reasonable population growth and broad-based revenue for communities that would otherwise be reliant on dwindling hunting income.

Instead of allocating previous hunting concessions to photographic, non-consumptive businesses, the Botswana government has been accused of sitting on them despite high levels of interest. Idle land is an invitation to poachers.

The bottom line here is that hunting tends to increase elephant aggression, which exacerbates HEC instead of resolving it.


A fifth myth: the hunting moratorium led to increased poaching.

This argument only works on confirmation bias and sequence ignorance. The logic is that poaching has increased in the wake of hunting’s absence, and the latter must therefore be the cause of the former.

However, poaching only started to increase in 2017, three years after the moratorium was imposed. Poaching is therefore more likely to be a function of scarcity elsewhere – south-western Zambia and south-eastern Angola have experienced high poaching rates recently – and density within. It’s no surprise that poachers have moved south.

Moreover, poaching may well have been minimised if former hunting concessions had been re-allocated timeously to allow photographic expansion.

In the final analysis, Botswana appears intent on moving against science and cogent argument through lifting Khama’s hunting moratorium.

Ecological integrity 

As a physical emblem of President Masisi’s rejection of the prevailing global view, he gifted his fellow heads of state at the Kasane conference with elephant footstools.

UN report released at the same time as the conference showed that human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems. No less than one million species are at risk of extinction, in large part because of our unsustainable ‘consumptive-use’ doctrine.

While the rest of the world takes stock of the implications of having destroyed the planet, Botswana has now committed to a policy built on myths, one that may generate short-term revenue and political gain.

But it comes at the expense of elephants, ecological integrity and future eco-tourism revenue.

This Author 

Ross Harvey studied a B.Com in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he also completed an M.Phil in Public Policy. At the end of 2018, he submitted his PhD in Economics, also at UCT. Ross is currently a freelance independent economist who works with The Conservation Action Trust.

Botswana lifts ban on big game hunting

A young bull elephant is seen in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

GABORONE (Reuters) – Botswana, home to almost a third of Africa’s elephants, lifted a ban on big game hunting on Wednesday, citing growing conflict between humans and wildlife and the negative impact of the hunting suspension on people’s livelihoods.

Conservationists estimate the southern African country has around 130,000 elephants, but some lawmakers say the number is much higher and causes problems for small-scale farmers.

“The Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement.

“The Ministry would like to reiterate that it will work with all stakeholders to ensure that re-instatement of hunting is done in an orderly and ethical manner”.

It said the return of wildlife hunting would take place in accordance with laws and regulations governing wildlife conservation, hunting and licensing, but did not elaborate. Minister of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Onkokame Kitso Mokaila would hold a news conference on Thursday to give details, it said.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi set up a committee in June last year to consider the hunting ban, which was imposed by former President Ian Khama in 2014 after surveys showed declining wildlife populations.

At the time, the committee chair said it recommended “a legal framework that will enable the growth of a safari hunting industry and manage the country’s elephant population within the historic range”. The committee also called for “regular but limited” elephant culling.

Botswana, a mostly arid country the size of France, has a population of around 2.3 million people and its vast tracts of remote wilderness make it a magnet for foreign tourists who want to view wildlife.

Elephants Live Longer in the Wild, Study Shows

Elephants have a much longer lifespan in the wild than in captivity, according to a new study from Science.

The study, which compared female African elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park with those in zoos, found that the wild elephants lived three times as long on average, surviving to a median age of 56 years compared with 17 years for elephants living in captivity. The findings were similar for Asian elephants kept in captivity to support the logging industry.

Common health problems for elephants in zoos include herpes, tuberculosis, arthritis, and obesity. The effect of captivity on this highly intelligent, social and wide-ranging species also likely has psychological effects, as sometimes evidenced by unusual aggressiveness or repetitive behaviors.

The findings of this study highlight the importance of implementing conservation strategies that ensure elephants and other species have the space and resources they need to thrive. Through its Africa Heartland Program, AWF works to combine parks, private lands and community areas into large conservation landscapes that give elephants and other wildlife the room they need to thrive. It is our belief that such large-landscape conservation is the soundest strategy for securing the future of Africa’s magnificent wildlife across the continent.

To read more about AWF’s elephant conservation work, click here.

To read learn more about elephants, click here.