Zimbabwe’s wildlife industry is set to suffer a heavy knock after the US Government’s House of Natural Resources Committee, passed the Cecil Act that seeks to ban hunted trophies from all African countries.
The Cecil Act, also known as the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of hunted Animal Trophies Act, now awaits for a vote in the US House of Representatives.
The Act, apparently motivated by the killing of Cecil the Lion outside Hwange National Park in 2015 in Matabeleland North province, will ban the importation trophies from foreign countries to curb perceived barbaric killings.
An American dentist Walter Palmer, grabbed the global news headlines after killing Cecil the Lion. Its death sparked heated debates and outrage around the world among wildlife rights lobbyists.
This Act comes a few weeks after the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora held in Geneva, Switzerland, rejected a proposal by SADC countries to open trade to clear stockpiles of ivory, with Zimbabwe sitting on US$600 million worth of tusks.
Zimbabwe is considering to pull out, but would do so after raising its concerns with CITES.
The House of Natural Resources Committee, passed the legislation with 19 voting for while 16 voted against with critics describing the law as “ill conceived.”
Conservation advocates say with US market constituting nearly 70 percent of Zimbabwe trophies, the legislation would lead to the demise of the wildlife industry as other countries sympathetic to America would impose similar bans.
America is the largest overseas tourist market for Zimbabwe with nearly 100 000 visitors coming into the country last year, according to the Zimbabwe Tourism AuthoritY.
“It goes without saying that H.R. 2245 (the Cecil Act) will derail clearly proven wildlife management strategies in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, where the world’s largest populations of lions, elephants, and other species are on steady recovery mode,” Emmanuel Fundira, chairman of Zimbabwe Safari Operators Association said.
“If implemented, H.R. 2245 (the Act) would undermine the authority and the on-going wildlife management plans currently in play. At best, this ill-conceived legislation is an attempt to substitute emotionalism with rational wildlife conservation.
“What a shame a piece of legislation based strictly on emotions and not sound science.
“The Americans have the audacity to sit there making decisions for other countries, despite the fact that we have proven that we can manage our wildlife resources better than anyone else on the continent. As expected during the hearing of this bill in July, there was deliberate slant by giving more coverage to American environmental groups, ignoring input from the African countries who bear the brunt.
“It is high time that we regroup and come up with strategies to mitigate the inevitable.”
Fundira noted that dubbing the legislation Cecil Act was an attempt by the Americans to invoke emotions on perceived “cruelty murder” of innocent animals.
Fulton Mangwanya, the director of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, in article published in Washington Examiner, said it was disappointing that some US lawmakers were focused on legislation rooted in unrealistic ideologies that would disempower the Government and local communities of Zimbabwe.
He said banning the importation of trophies from Zimbabwe would not contribute in any way to the conservation of ecosystems. In fact, it would have the opposite effect.
“Lawmakers who don’t believe this inconvenient truth are welcome to come visit us in Zimbabwe and see for themselves,” Mangwanya.
“I would personally welcome them to our national parks that are endowed with diverse wildlife resources and our local communities that live with wildlife so that they can share the successes and challenges of living with such iconic and yet dangerous wildlife species.”
Mangwanya said Zimbabwe, for instance came up with a five-year strategic initiative known as the National Elephant Management Plan (2015-2020) to create a well-managed and ecologically functional protected area network that would address critical issues such as poaching, operational funding and human-wildlife conflicts.
Legal, regulated hunting is a critical tool within the plan, as it creates a monetary value for both the species and their habitat that in turn, incentivises landowners and local communities to protect wildlife areas from human encroachment. He said the sound management practices have sustained a healthy and growing elephant population in Zimbabwe that would be put in needless jeopardy should the Cecil Act become law.
“Such a law will have far-reaching negative consequences, removing significant incentives for conservation of wildlife and habitat beyond the protected area wherein elephants and lions roam wild and free,” Mangwanya said.
He added it had been proven in several scientific studies by International Union for Conservation of Nature specialist groups that the single biggest threat to wildlife species such as elephant and lion in Africa was habitat loss. Zimbabwe’s network of six Transfrontier Conservation Areas alongside the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources have worked to expand protected land in the country from 13 percent to 26 percent of our total land area in Zimbabwe.
“Securing over five million hectares of land outside traditional protected areas is an achievement that was only realised due to the US$2 million in big game hunting revenue, which went to over 800 000 families in rural areas.
“The Cecil Act would rob such initiatives of this funding, eliminating incentives for local communities to participate in these effective conservation initiatives,” Mangwanya said.
Fundira said there was need to start lobbying members of the US House of Assembly to vote against the legislation. He said it was also critical to embark on perception management by inviting the members of the assembly to appreciate the situation.
“As advocates for conservation, let’s join hands and lobby in whichever possible against HR 2245.”