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Written by Adam Cruise for the Conservation Action Trust

Zimbabwe’s elephant population is so large that it has reached double the country’s carrying capacity, claims Zimbabwe’s minister for the environment, water and climate, Saviour Kasukuwere. Kasukuwere believes that his country’s recent capture and selling of young wild elephants, to zoos and private collections to the middle and far-east are necessary in order to control the exploding population.

Elephant
© Francis Garrard

Kasukuwere provided no scientific evidence to support his claims regarding carrying capacity. However, the Annual Waterhole Count in Hwange last year by Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe revealed that Hwange’s elephant population at 22,414 ,was less than half the figure of 54,000 touted by Minister Kasukuwere, who does not explain where his figure came from. While the waterhole figures may not be 100% accurate as elephant populations are highly mobile dependant on environmental factors, they do give a good indication of the size of the population.

As for other areas in Zimbabwe, a survey just released by Kevin Dunham at the Workshop to Develop Elephant Conservation Policy and Management Plan for Zimbabwe has revealed that the elephant population in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi River Valley, which includes Mana Pools, has declined by more than 40% over the past 13 years. This area has until recently been renowned for its healthy elephant population. And in direct contradiction to Kasukuwere’s claims, that the country’s population is expanding the preliminary results for 2014 show a staggeringly sharp decline of 75% in the combined Matusadona and Chizarira areas.

Such is the international concern over Zimbabwe’s elephants that in April 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the suspension of all imports for sport-hunted elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. The primary reason cited for the suspension, was “poor management practices by Zimbabwe’s government and wildlife services” that have “led to a significant decline in elephant populations”. This suspension has this week been reviewed and upheld indefinitely for the same reasons.

Yet most incriminating of all are the figures published by the Elephant Database, a joint project of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG). Based on aerial, ground and reliable sample and dung counts Zimbabwe’s total elephant population has been pegged at 47,000 individuals in 2012, which is just over half the figure presented by the Zimbabwe government. Furthermore, the report shows that there were 80,000+ individuals in 2007 meaning there has been a drastic decline by 2012, almost 50% less in just five years.

The capture of wild elephants for permanent captivity is illegal in South Africa where their sentient nature and the importance of maintaining their family groups is recognised by statute, and also flies in the face of world wide moves to remove elephants from circuses and zoos and place them in sanctuaries.

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