By DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls
ZIMBABWE’S wildlife authorities are sitting with a jumbo headache: what to do with the huge elephant population in the country’s national parks.
The national parks carry more than double the capacity of elephants.
An international ban on the trade of the gigantic animals is aggravating matters and presenting a king-size headache to authorities.
The elephant population has surpassed the 100 000-mark, the second-largest number in Africa after neighbouring Botswana.
A rise from 83 000 elephants from the last official census by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) in 2014
indicates an average 5 percent annual increase.
Normally, this must be a cause of celebration considering the animals are an endangered species but for Zimbabwe, this is more of a curse than a blessing.
ZimParks has raised alarm over the surging elephant population that is threatening the natural habitat and population of other species.
“We are worried about the number of animals, particularly elephants and destruction of the habitat. Scientifically, there should be one elephant per each square kilometre,” said ZimParks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo.
More than 90 percent of elephants in Zimbabwe are in game parks around the country while around six percent are under rural district councils through Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE) programmes.
The rest are in private sanctuaries, mostly run by tourism operators.
Hwange National Park, the country’s biggest sanctuary, is close to 15 000km2 and has more than 45 000 jumbos, three times more than its carrying capacity.
Farawo said the overpopulation led to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.
“Numbers have not been good and cases of conflict keep rising. We are headed for disaster,” he warned.
The destruction of habitat by elephants is threatening the existence of some bird and animal species. Competition for water is worsening the situation in drought-prone Zimbabwe.
To avoid disaster, ZimParks is lobbying for the transfer of some elephants to other countries that have small numbers.
However, de-populating parks by repatriating elephants to other countries is restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of fauna and flora.
As a result, Zimbabwe also sits on over US$600 million worth of ivory stock piles which cannot be disposed of because of the trade ban. – CAJ News