24 November 2022
TROPHY HUNTING – A ZIMBABWEAN’S VIEW
Born Free’s Head of Policy, Dr Mark Jones, chats to Nomusa Dube, founder of the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation, dedicated to helping communities co-exist with wildlife.
How did you become interested in wildlife, and elephants in particular?
I experienced wildlife from a young age growing up in Zimbabwe and camping in the bush. Seeing elephants – their sheer size, the way they love and care for each other, their compassion, and the way they protect their little ones – made me want to learn all about their family dynamics and the role they play in the ecosystem. They are fascinating majestic creatures.
What inspired you to establish the Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation?
The idea was born out of animal welfare activism. I was campaigning against the trade in wild infant elephants that are torn from their families in Zimbabwe and transported to zoos in China and UAE, and wanted to raise awareness of the reality of this cruel trade. In the end, I thought, ‘just go for it’, so I created this non-profit foundation to advocate for stronger coexistence between people and wildlife in Zimbabwe.
What is your view on trophy hunting?
Trophy hunting makes me angry and sad. What sort of sport is it where one side has bows, arrows and guns and the other nothing? In this day and age, we should have evolved to stop these medieval practices.
They say trophy hunting is about wildlife conservation and management and helping local communities, but that’s very misleading. It’s been going on in Zimbabwe for decades, yet wildlife continues to diminish, extinctions accelerate, and local people continue to live in abject poverty. Corruption in Zimbabwe and other African countries means that the money from trophy hunting never reaches the local communities. It’s a story of mismanagement, unlawful determination of hunting quotas, and missing money.
To trophy hunters, this is a sport; they don’t do this for conservation; they do it for fun. They target the fittest individuals and the rarest species, disrupting animal families, weakening gene pools and driving them towards extinction. It’s just a big con in the conservation world. How do you kill a species to save a species? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
What do local communities in Zimbabwe think about elephant trophy hunting?
I have spoken to a lot of local people in Zimbabwe. They loathe trophy hunting; they don’t want it at all. They are the guardians of wildlife, it’s their land, but they don’t benefit from trophy hunting, which only escalates the conflict between people and wild animals. The local people live in fear. Government officials and hunting bodies decide what happens; the communities don’t really have any say. They are used as pawns in this trophy-hunting game so that tens of thousands of dollars can be deposited into foreign bank accounts. That money never returns to Africa.
What impact do you think bans on trophy imports by countries like the UK will have in Zimbabwe and other countries where trophy hunting takes place?
Bans on trophy imports would be a huge step forward in terms of saving species that are being hunted because the numbers of wild animals like lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinos are dwindling.
How do you think Zimbabwe’s authorities will react to such a ban?
They are not going to like it. They are benefiting from the funds while local communities continue to live in abject poverty. Whatever they say on the surface, behind the scenes, nothing is happening for the local people. Local communities are being used as pawns so a few people can live a life of luxury.
What’s your long-term vision for wildlife conservation?
The key to conserving wildlife all over the planet is to work hand-in-hand with local communities living alongside wildlife. If we can empower and support them, they will look after wildlife. Equity for the communities and grassroots education are really important. The reason I continue to fight for wildlife is that they play such a vital role in the ecosystem and in mitigating climate change.
Our survival depends on wildlife – if they go, we go as well.