Officials in Zimbabwe have appealed to the European Union and other countries to support the sale of ivory, which has been banned since 1989 by CITES, the international body that monitors endangered species.
Zimbabwe has 163,000 tonnes of ivory and 67 tonnes of rhino horn, Mangwania said.
Ambassadors from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the United States saw ivory in a heavily guarded vault in Harare.
Swiss Ambassador to Zimbabwe Nikolin Jagar, speaking on behalf of the envoys, stressed the need to fight elephant poaching.
“The conservation and prevention of the illegal wildlife trade is an international issue because the criminal syndicate is involved in the illegal wildlife trade, so international cooperation needs to be strengthened,” he said.
Zimbabwe will host an “elephant summit” later this month where representatives from 14 African countries, as well as China and Japan, will consider ways to manage the world’s largest land animal population.
“We need help. These elephants are growing at an alarming rate of 5% per year, “said Fulton Mangwania, director general of the park and wildlife agency, during a visit.
Zimbabwe’s estimated 100,000 elephants are twice the carrying capacity of its national park. Park officials say overflowing elephants are destroying trees and shrubs that are important to them and other wildlife.
Zimbabwe’s elephant population is growing so fast that Mangwania has warned that “it will be very difficult for us to do anything but oppose it.”
Neighboring Botswana has more than 130,000 elephants, the largest in the world. Zimbabwe and Botswana together have about 50% of the world’s elephants. The two countries have said they are struggling to cope with the growing numbers and are pushing for the sale of their stockpiles seized from poachers or removed from dead elephants.
Other African countries, such as Kenya, insist that the sale of all ivory should be banned in order to discourage any international trade in ivory.
In addition to banning the sale of ivory, CITES also banned the sale of wild elephants caught in Zimbabwe and Botswana in 2019, a move that pleased some conservationists but discouraged officials from struggling to manage their overloaded parks.
There is a growing illegal trade in ivory where international syndicates fund poachers to kill elephants and cut their ivory. Ivory is then smuggled abroad, where there is a demand for ivory for jewelry and trinkets.
Increased hunting and habitat loss have further endangered Africa’s elephant population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.
Zimbabwe and Botswana have said they are not equipped to deal with poachers without money from the sale of ivory, especially since a travel ban on COVID-19 has reduced revenue from tourism since 2020.
Zimbabwe has pledged to use “all” proceeds from the sale of ivory to fund its wildlife conservation and to help communities living near the park, and has said it will “bear the brunt” of conflict with wildlife, Mangwania said. Zimbabwe argues that funds that benefit people living near the park will inspire them to support the fight against poaching rather than relying on it for their livelihood.
Zimbabwe has “offered to sell off once in this COVID-19 epidemic,” said Mangwania.
“There is a great market for valuable ivory and we cannot do business to create the financial resources to implement the elephant management plan,” said Mangwania. “It’s worse now with Kovid and less business in tourism where we get our revenue. Where do we get the money to look after the resources? “