By Luckmore Safuli
Zimbabwe has been encouraged to explore various options to fund conservation efforts including maximizing on the opportunities under non-commercial wildlife products trade.
Almost a year after Southern African countries threatened to exit the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of the Flora and Fauna (CITES) and form a regional ivory trading body, nothing much has been done in that regard.
Resource-rich African countries which are seating on ivory and rhino horns estimated at US$ 1 trillion continue to struggle to fund conservation programmes due to wildlife trade restrictions.
Managing Director of Los Angeles-based Ivory Education Institute Mr
Godfrey Harris believes non-commercial rhino horn trade provides a starting point in unlocking funds to support conservation efforts.
“It is only a start. But an important one. It helps us learn the paths and patterns of trade between Southern Africa and importing nations. It builds trust and experience that is required for commercial trade in the future,” he said.
The institute has also offered technical assistance to Southern African countries to kick-start the non-commercial rhino horn sales.
“We have not yet been contacted by any government. But it is early days. We have learned that when dealing in new ideas or projects in Africa, outsiders need patience,” noted Harris.
Painted Dogs Conservation Chairman Mr Jerry Gotora says regional countries should not lose sight of the bigger picture and must continuously push for the lifting of restrictions on commercial wildlife trade.
“We would rather want to have a commercial sale which gives us higher returns for us to be able to continue to commercially manage the wildlife resources so that the communities that live with the nuisance of living with those animals get enough livelihood,” said Gotora.
Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ) president, Dr Emmanuel Fundira says the region should consider all options that could help unlock funds for conservation including non-commercial rhino horn trade.
“I don’t think we should really tire and even more serious consideration should be given to exploring other avenues where revenue can be generated, which is badly required for conservation,” noted Fundira.
The CITES treaty permits the non-commercial sale of endangered wildlife products such as rhino horn for personal use that ranges from medicinal to research purposes. Some conservationists argue that funds from non-commercial sales can be channelled towards meeting the ivory stockpile storage and protection cost.
Zimbabwe is paying an estimated US$180 000 each year for rhino horn and ivory storage and protection.