An elephant crosses the road in Hwange National Park. Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant wildlife that includes lions, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus among others.Photo: AP

INTERNATIONAL - Across Zimbabwe’s vast swathes of forests and mountains lurks a wide variety of wildlife, that remains a major attraction for tourists to the country; but limited investment flows and poaching are hurting conservation efforts, while there is strong opposition to trophy hunting and animal exports.

Zimbabwe is endowed with abundant wildlife that includes lions, elephant, buffalo and hippopotamus among others. There are even special conservation programmes for endangered species such as painted wild dogs, rhinos and pangolin that still freely roam Zimbabwe’s national parks. .

This comes as debate rages over trophy hunting and conservation efforts following the death of Cecil the lion at the Hwange National Park in 2015.

However, the government has also been blamed for paying lip service to wildlife conservation efforts.

No benefits

Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, charged that the government of Zimbabwe was in the process of exporting 80 elephants to China with little benefit to communities.

“Zimbabwe has no conservation idea, specifically when it has been exporting animals to China and other countries. Right now they are capturing 80 baby elephants for China and that is not conservation when the rural folk get no benefits from this,” he said.

Other experts argue that Zimbabwe is resorting to selling wildlife because of constrained investment inflows. Trophy hunting has also been criticised although information at hand shows that some trophy hunting activities are still happening.

“We need sustainable tourism and not trophy hunting and animal exports, because tourism helps communities and conservation efforts in a serious manner. “Money from trophy hunting is difficult to trace,” said a wildlife and safari tour operator who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clive Stockil, a conservationist in the Save Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld, agreed that poaching was hurting efforts to grow and conserve Zimbabwe’s wildlife, especially the endangered rhino. Zimbabwe has 353 rhinos remaining and the land issue is one of the impeding factors as conflicts between wildlife and human settlement remain major talking points.

“Rhinos need large spaces and large spaces are becoming less and less available due to human encroachment. In the interim, there is a demand for the horn from the East and obviously there are high prices being paid now, with people prepared to take the risks to go out and kill them for that,” said Stockil.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has been battling rising poaching incidents in Zimbabwe and have “declared war” on poaching activities. But the authority has also said that it is seeking about $5.6 million (R74.3m) in investment to upgrade accommodation units it runs around national parks and other tourism facilities across Zimbabwe.