Tag Archives: Zimbabwe

A trophy for Trump, or trump for the Trophy?

In a recent announcement to the world, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) lifted and backflipped a ban on the importation of elephant trophies. What are the implications on conservation and from a socio-economic perspective to the countries involved on a ban on the importation of elephant trophies?

Elephant pic one blog
African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) mature bull. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe ©Ross Sayer, (2016).

What is trophy hunting? Trophy hunting is a legal type of hunting where a portion of the animal is kept as a souvenir to memorialize the experience. It is not illegal and should not be mistaken for poaching.

The African Elephant is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act and is regulated under a special rule. Being one of the species listed as vulnerable by the IUCN elephants are major contentious species in Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) discussions on trade restrictions. World populations have been declining globally with trade restriction proposals on its trophies meeting contention from countries like Zimbabwe. The initial decision to suspend importation of elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe was due to the USFWS having insufficient information on the status of elephants in Zimbabwe. This trade ban imposed on Zimbabwean elephant’s trophies went into effect April 4, 2014.

Known for its sustainable management of elephants, the Zimbabwe elephant population currently stands at 84 000, greater than the ecological carrying capacity for the country can hold. This means that there are more elephants in Zimbabwe than what the environment can sustain, given the food, habitat, water, and other necessities available in the country. The 2014 ban over the years resulted in an increase in human and elephant conflicts in the country and its removal will therefore be welcome towards depopulating the elephant populations, improving community livelihoods and reducing environmental damage to protected areas. Proceeds from trophies have benefitted communities in Zimbabwe through the CAMPFIRE program which has seen direct development and investment in communities through sales of trophies.

Tusks inventory Zimbabwe
A Zimbabwe Parks official inspects the country’s ivory stockpile ©Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, (2016).

Historically the United States is the largest trophy importer from Zimbabwe. The initial 2014 ban however did not prohibit U.S. hunters from traveling to Zimbabwe and participating in elephant hunts, so hunters kept coming to the elephant rich country resulting in stockpiling of ivory. Currently stockpiles of ivory in Zimbabwe weigh about 70 tonnes and are  worth an estimated $35 million dollars which could be put to good use in the Southern African country if institutions guarding against issues like corruption are adequately put in place.

However, this move could be an undoing of the great work and effort that has been put towards conservation of the African elephant. This leads to questions being raised on the commitment of US towards protection of the species and on the role, that lifting the 2014 ban will lead to in terms of the illegal wildlife trade systems governing the elephant. As global efforts try to put in place mechanisms to manage the trade worth billions of dollars annually.


African elephant conservation issues have received significant attention within CITES According to CITIES regulations, the African elephant is on CITES’ Appendix I, except for those populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are on Appendix II.  The normal CITES rules for Appendix I-listed species is that commercial, international trade in specimens taken from the wild is prohibited. For Appendix II listed species, the rules allow commercial, international trade, subject to first obtaining the necessary permits. Zimbabwe has strongly resisted embargos on trophy hunting involving elephants.

Zimbabwe has had an active elephant hunting program for more than 20 years and imports of elephant trophies into the United States have occurred since 1997 when its elephant population, was reduced through a process known as down listing to Appendix II of CITES. The US published a notice that acknowledged that, as these elephants were classified in Appendix II, no permit to import into the U.S. would be required for trophies.


The recent 2017 reversal of the ban, legitimizes claims by Zimbabwe that it has proven and successful conservation records to continue harvesting the elephants. The USA through this action recognizes that Zimbabwe has established laws and regulations, which provides a strong basis for elephants sustainably utilization and management and has reviewed the status of the population and concluded that the total management program for elephants ensures the promotion of their conservation.

Trophy for Trump
A trophy for Trump ©Akim Reinhardt, (2014)

Elephant hunting is one of the biggest revenue contributor to the country, hence the re-establishments of traditional markets in the USA which had been lost will be of notable value. The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Department receives no funding from the central Zimbabwean Government and relies primarily on hunting revenues, hence the importance of opening trade markets for trophy sales is a major boost for conservation in the country. In Zimbabwe, annual revenue from hunting trophies could be as much as $130m, mainly from the US market and is a significant source of revenue.

The lifting of the 2014 ban, recognizes that hunting is beneficial to wildlife and that Zimbabwe can sustainably manage its elephant populations. Zimbabwe is currently vigorously marketing trophies around the world and within the US market.


The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) however states that the lifting of the ban will promote the hunting industry, not conservation. AWF is concerned for the protection of the endangered species as poaching has led to a catastrophic drop in elephant populations around the world over the last 15 years. (Burn et al, 2011). A petition to ban trophy hunting , shows that some people find trophy hunting reprehensible with some suggesting that countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia could make much more money from tourism instead.

Trump for the trophy
Protesters at the Fifth Annual International March for Elephants ©Jeff Malet, Newsroom, (2017).

The USFWS decision to lift the ban was announced at an event co-hosted by Safari Club International (SCI), a hunting rights group. The Safari Club and the National Rifle Association, both pro hunting organisations have been against the initial 2014 ban from the start and even took the USFW services to the courts over the ban.  Opponents of the lifting of the ban like the US Humane Society highlight that Secretary Zinke just like Donald Trump’s sons are well-known hunters, therefore this position moves in favour of the US hunting sector and shows a biased relationship between the hunters movement and the Trump administration. Trump’s son Donald Jr made headlines when photos surfaced of him posing triumphantly with dead animals he’d killed on safari in Zimbabwe alongside younger brother, Eric Trump.

African Elephant
African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana) mature bull. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe ©Ross Sayer, (2016).

US government officials at the creation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council  and the USFWS spokesman however have stated that this move would boost economies, enhance wildlife conservation by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation and is part of a sound management programme that can benefit the conservation through providing incentives to local communities. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has in so saying stamped that the hunting and management programmes for elephants in Zimbabwe will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.

What then are the implications for development vis-a-vis the trophy hunting conundrum? Shall we give Donald Trump the trophy for promoting social and economic development in under privileged countries sustainably managing their elephant populations, through lifting a ban on the trophy importation, or shall we march and trump against the trade in ivory?


  1. Burn, R.W., Underwood, F.M. & Blanc, J., 2011. Global trends and factors associated with the illegal killing of elephants: a hierarchical Bayesian analysis of carcass encounter data. PLoS ONE, 6(9), p. e24165.
  2. Elephants in the Dust, CITES Report at https://www.cites.org/sites/default/files/common/resources/pub/Elephants_in_the_dust.pdf
  3. Jansen, D.J. 1990. Sustainable wildlife utilization in the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe: economic, ecological and political trade-offs (paper presented at Ecological Economics Sustainability: An International Interdisciplinary Conference). Washington, D.C., World Bank.
  4. http://zimparks.org/
  5. Zimbabwe’s 5th Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity at https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/zw/zw-nr-05-en.pdf
  6. Zimbabwe National Elephant Management Program (2020 -2050) at https://conservationaction.co.za/resources/reports/zimbabwe-national-elephant-management-plan-2015-2020/
  7. https://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php

Role Plays in Conservation Education: A Lesson for Zimbabwe

In order for the overall goal of nature conservation to be achieved, a multi-faceted approach, which draws from an array of expertise and activities, should be applied. I think of the degradation of nature as a balloon that is expanding at a rapid rate, and conservationists as people who are pushing against this balloon in order to burst it, in the best case scenario, or deflate it, in the least. However, pushing against the balloon from only one side will only cause it to change shape or move, but applying the pressure from all of its facets is more likely to result in success. As such, professionals work towards conservation from various facets (ecology, economics, policy, technology, education etc.). However, my niche in contributing to the broader goal has largely been in environmental education. I came to study in a different environment from my previous one so that I could gain insights into other methods of carrying out this environmental education in my country. I was gratified to see this objective being fulfilled through a role-play exercise that was carried out on my course.

The role-play exercise was based on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of Parties (CoP). It was led by Dr Paul Jepson, Course Director for the Master of Science degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management and Mr Noel McGough, Member of the CITES Plants Committee and former Head of the United Kingdom (UK) CITES Scientific Authority for Plants (1988 – 2014). Prior to this exercise, each student on the MSc course was assigned either a country (which was not necessarily their country of origin) or an observer organisation / lobbyist (conservation NGO or trade body) to represent. I represented Zimbabwe. The issue at hand was a proposal from Germany, on behalf of the European Union (EU), to list the tree species Cedrela odorata (cedar) onto CITES Appendix II due to its over-exploitation for timber.

Cedrela Odorata
A Cedrela odorata (cedar) tree. Source: alchetron.com/Cedrela-odorata

The cedar has several uses such as furniture construction and the making of cigar boxes. Up-listing it would mean that in order for export of this tree to occur, the Scientific Authority of the exporting country would need to conduct a scientific survey whose results must prove that the export in question will not pose a threat to the species in the wild.

The Lead Up to CITES CoP Oxford – 3 November 2017

As, in practice, many of the negotiations are carried out before the actual meeting, there were interesting interactions that occurred between participants of the workshop. Two groups invested the most effort into these interactions. The first was the EU, led by Germany and the Netherlands, who was the chief proponents and had prepared the proposal respectively. The second were the observer organisations / lobbyists who, because they knew they were not permitted a vote to put forward on the day, desperately and relentlessly tried to convince participating states to adopt their position. The observer organisations / lobbyists mainly targeted the Non-Range states (countries in which the tree does not occur, such as the one I was representing) as there was a better chance to convince them given that they had less to gain directly from the ultimate outcome of the meeting compared to the EU and Range States. Both proponents and antagonists of the up-listing proposal approached me several times to inquire of my stance and convince me to vote in line with them. It was hilarious to see the mock dismay on the faces of the proponents and antagonists of the proposal each time I countered an argument with which they had tried to persuade me. But with this disappointment came a distinct determination to go and conduct further research, reflect on the issue again, and make a rebound. Verily, on that very same day or on the next at the latest, each proponent and antagonist would approach me again using a different angle of argument. Some “government delegates”, including myself, received emails from the exercise coordinators posing as the delegates’ foreign offices, advising them of what national interests they were to take into consideration when deciding on and casting their vote.

Settling on a vote was not an easy task for me, for two reasons. Firstly, the arguments that were being put up by both camps were nearly at par in strength. This simply reflected how determined, well-researched and eloquent both camps were. Secondly and more importantly, I had to act in a manner in which my country’s government would have, although I did not personally agree with any of the reasons for the stances it would possibly take, and this is a common real-life scenario. The Zimbabwe government would most likely have wanted to oppose the EU given that many of the government’s members were under EU financial sanctions. However, the fact that the EU supported Zimbabwe in the bid to prevent an ivory trade ban (an up-list onto Appendix I) at CoP 17, turned the tables such that Zimbabwe would thus want to vote in line with the EU to maintain this support, and continue to receive an income from ivory trade. I took the latter stance.

CITES CoP Oxford – 3 November 2017: The Day

On arriving at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment, I was greeted at the foot of the staircase by an official-looking sign post that indicated the meeting.

CITES Signpost
Signage for the CITES CoP (role-play) at Oxford, 2017. © Cedric Maforimbo

This gave the event an air of reality. On arriving in the room where the exercise was being held, I found the tables set up in official CITES format, with each group of parties sitting on a given table.

The Chair (Mr McGough) opened the meeting and sought confirmation from the Secretary (Dr Jepson) on whether credentials from all parties had been submitted. The Secretary, in response, announced outstanding credentials from three countries (without which none of them could vote), but these all trickled in slowly during the debates until seconds before the voting process. Germany was then given the floor to put forward the EU’s proposal which the German delegate conveyed very professionally.

The representative for Germany, proponent of the up-listing of Cedrela odorata presents ,the proposal as I look on. © Mari Mulyani

The following was an array of well-presented arguments for and against the listing. I was very impressed with the mock seriousness of the Chair and the Secretary and the mock passion that the participants exhibited as they argued. As the meeting progressed, the Chair also sharply warned parties when they used informal language, spoke too fast for the (non-existent) translators to follow, exceeded the allocated speaking time or exhibited boisterous behaviour. Many of the delegates were dressed according to their roles, with some in wigs and fake moustaches and others in business attire (when they were representing business trade bodies). Various accents were flung about by speakers to give their speeches a representative flair.

The result. The motion to up-list the cedar to Appendix II narrowly missed attaining majority vote, but let alone the two-thirds vote that it required in order to be passed.

Reflections and Discussion

I have not encountered much role-playing in natural resource teaching in Zimbabwe, yet several studies have demonstrated role plays to be highly effective methods of teaching, promoting group work and increasing students’ awareness of their own and others’ feelings  (DeNeve and Heppner, 1997). They are also an effective research tool in the determination of the behaviour of communities under varying environmental protection regimes (Villamor and van Noordwijk, 2011). Role play exercises fall within the category of experiential learning. Several researchers namely Kolb (1974) cited in Healey and Jenkins (2000), Ajiboye and Silo (2008), Elsgest (1987) cited in Ajiboye and Atijoni (2008) found that experiential learning facilitated a better grasp of environmental concepts as compared to theoretical learning, and a higher likelihood of the application of the learnt concepts to practice.  As such, their use in nature education in Zimbabwe should be up-scaled in order to harness their benefits.


Ajiboye, J.O., Ajitoni, S.O., 2008. Effects of full and quasi – participatory learning strategies on Nigerian senior secondary students’ environmental knowledge: Implications for classroom practice. Int. J. Environ. Sci. Educ. 3, 58–66.

Ajiboye, J.O., Silo, N., 2008. Enhancing Botswana Children’s Environmental Knowledge , Attitudes and Practices through the School Civic Clubs 3, 105–114.

DeNeve, K.M., and Heppner, M.J. 1997. Role Play Simulations: The Assessment of an Active Learning Technique and Comparisons with Traditional Lectures. Innovative Higher Education. 21, 231-246

Healey, M., Jenkins, A., 2000. Kolb’s experiential learning theory and its application in geography in higher education. J. Geog. 99, 185–195. https://doi.org/10.1080/00221340008978967

Villamor, G. B., and van Noordwijk, M. 2011. Social role-play games vs individual perceptions of conservation and PES agreements for maintaining rubber agroforests in Jambi (Sumatra), Indonesia. Ecology and Society 16(3): 27.