Zimbabwe could face punitive sanctions at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species conference as a result of its failure to control poaching of wildlife, especially of the endangered rhino, the Convention’s secretary general has warned.
CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers said rampant poaching of the rhino for its horn in Zimbabwe and South Africa is on the agenda of the Conference of Parties of CITES set for Qatar in March.
Addressing reporters in Harare at the end of a four-day visit to Zimbabwe, he said punitive measures include suspension of trade in wildlife with an errant country. He said if this happened to Zimbabwe, it would hurt the country.
“Both the conservancies and the national parks get most of their income from hunting and tourism,” he said. “A boycott on imports of hunting trophies by the rest of the world doesn’t help Zimbabwe and it doesn’t help the species as such so that is something that I would certainly would like to be avoided.”
Wijnstekers added that a country could also be given time to address poaching and other violations before sanctions are imposed.
A wildlife expert speaking on condition of anonymity told VOA that while ordinary or so-called non-consumptive tourism had declined in the past decade, hunters still come to Zimbabwe in large numbers. Such visits generate millions of dollars in revenues to the sector, he said.
Wijnstekers, who met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and other senior government officials, said he was gathering information so CITES could better appreciate Zimbabwe’s problems. He said his meetings had been positive and highlighted the lack of capacity and resources to cope with poaching.
Accompanying Wijnstekers was CITES Chief Enforcement Officer John Sellar, who said that while the organization has no money to help Zimbabwe beef up its anti-poaching capacity, it is in touch with donors who can help. He also expressed satisfaction with the way Zimbabwe is dealing with the alleged involvement of security forces in the poaching.
“The commissioner general of police made no secret of the fact that members of the security forces have been involved in poaching rhino but several of those people are now in jail,” said Sellar.
“I think one soldier has been killed, shot when he encountered anti-poaching forces. It appears that the law enforcement agencies aren’t in the least bit reluctant to deal with their own rotten apples,” he said.
There has been a spike in demand for rhino horn in Asian countries where it is believed to have medicinal properties, encouraging poaching.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and TRAFFIC noted in a report last year that more than 95 percent of all rhino losses on the African continent occur in Zimbabwe and South Africa. While the rhino is endangered in Zimbabwe it does not yet face a similar threat in South Africa.