HARARE – African countries that have successfully managed to sustainably conserve their wildlife must be allowed to financially benefit their communities and economies from the resource, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the inaugural elephant summit held here, and attended by leaders of countries of what is known as the Kaza region, President Mnangagwa said the countries in the region must speak together with one voice at the forthcoming 18th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) on the imperative for financial benefits from successful wildlife management.
Besides host President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, Dr Hage Geingob of Namibia and Edgar Lungu of Zambian also attended the indaba while Angola’s Juao Lourenco was represented.
CITES, about five years ago placed a ban on hunting and trade in elephants, ivory and related products, a decision that did not sit well with southern African countries that have huge populations of the specie.
“As we approach CITES, let us therefore, resolutely affirm our collective position on sustainable elephant conservation management. Let us boldly speak with one voice, in the best interest of our nations and communities,” President Mnangagwa said to applause.
“The “one size fits all approach” of banning everything under CITES disregarding the good efforts and investments by our respective governments, is neither sustainable nor desirable.”
President Mnangagwa said the west, especially, seemed to place more emphasis on protecting elephants, “sadly sometimes, to the detriment of communities who co-exist with the elephants.”
“A more holistic and fair approach is however necessary to ensure the survival, management and trade in our elephant species,” he said.
He said poverty eradication, economic empowerment and the improvement of life of rural communities can only be enhanced if the region is allowed to trade and benefit “from our God given natural endowments.”
“Our success in elephant conservation is commendable and must be duly recognised. It is equally imperative that the global community considers the voices of countries that are successfully conserving these species,” the Zimbabwean leader said.
President Mnangagwa’s sentiments were backed by Namibian leader, Dr Geingob, who said the west had no right to lecture Africans on the management of their wildlife resources.
“We have a problem of overpopulation because we have managed our resources properly. Our successes are now our problem,” he said.
“Europe must be humble and learn from us how we are managing our resources…”
Dr Geingob said ivory, when properly monitored, can be traded legally.
President Lungu said the elephants would have been extinct in the region had concerted efforts not been made to conserve and sustainably manage the specie.
“We should ensure real and adequate benefits that support community livelihoods are derived from management of elephants,” he said.
Earlier, Dr Masisi said Kaza countries must take a proactive role and refuse to be lectured on managing their elephants.
“We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants. It is not by accident that our region is home to the largest population of elephants,” he said.
“Our conservation and management practises and successes are world class and we should not be shy to proudly so proclaim.”
The leaders also expressed concern on growing human-animal conflicts due to a growth in both human and wildlife populations.
With regards to elephants, the region did not have the capacity to manage the herbivores which are estimated at over 290 000.
The elephant summit ran under the theme, “Towards a common vision for the management of our elephants.”
It sought to raise awareness on the current status of the African Elephant in the southern African region; exchange of ideas on human-elephant conflict, illegal and legal trade and agree on concrete interventions to address the challenges posed.
Zambia will host the second edition of the elephant summit next year.
After the summit, the four leaders toured the Kazungula bridge, currently under construction to assess progress.
Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe will next month host the inaugural African Union, United Nations wildlife summit.
The indaba will be held on June 24 and 25 in the resort town of Victoria Falls.
This will be yet another opportunity for us to deliberate further and share views on how we can unlock the value of our wildlife,” he said.
The Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservaton Area (KAZA), which is made up of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has the biggest population of elephants in Africa. – New Ziana