Zimbabwe will reportedly sell the hunting rights to 500 elephants in order to help the upkeep of its cash-strapped national parks.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a collapse in visitor numbers in the country as foreign tourists have been unable to travel due to lockdown restrictions.
Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, told CNN the lack of revenue was the main driver for the move.
Farawo said: “We eat what we kill. We have a budget of about $25 million for our operations which is raised – partly – through sports hunting, but you know tourism is as good as dead at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
In a separate interview with Bloomberg Farawo said that the right to shoot an elephant will cost trophy hunters between $10,000 and $70,000, depending on the size of the animal.
“How do we fund our operations, how do we pay our men and women who spend 20 days in the bush looking after these animals?”
“Those who are opposed to our management mechanism should instead be giving us the funding to manage better these animals,” Farawo added.
The announcement comes just weeks after a new conservation assessment warned that African elephants are at increasing risk of extinction due to the dual threats of poaching for ivory and loss of habitat.
Forest elephants are now listed as critically endangered, at the highest risk of extinction, and savanna elephants are endangered in the new International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The two species have seen significant declines over the past few decades, with numbers of forest elephants falling by more than 86% over 31 years and savanna elephants declining by at least 60% over half a century, experts said.
Simiso Mlevu, a spokeswoman for the Center for Natural Resource Governance, a Zimbabwe environmental group, told CNN: ”“We strongly condemn trophy hunting — a practice that agitates wild animals and escalates human-wild life conflicts.
“It is almost certain that surviving families of wildlife families that witness the senseless gunning down of their family members mete out vengeance on the hapless local villagers.”
Zimbabwe currently has around 100,000 elephants, the second largest population in the world.
Additional reporting by agencies