Video report by ITV News' Africa Correspondent John Ray
Zimbabwe’s elephants face a new threat after the government revealed it wants to lift a near 30-year ban on ivory sales.
On the brink of bankruptcy, the government recently threw a lavish party to welcome wildlife experts from around the world in a charm offensive led by president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The president says the trade could raise more than $600 million but, while he assures money raised will go towards conservation and helping communities under threat from elephants, campaigners warn the move would give a green light to wholesale slaughter.
Pat Awore, of the Pan Africa Wildlife Network, told ITV News: “The consequence of selling ivory triggers mass killing of elephants. The appetite that can be created for demand for ivory is insatiable.”
Locals, however, complain elephants are ruining their livelihoods and threatening their safety.
A village chief in the middle of elephant country, Mthandazo Mpala, told ITV News the fences around his community are useless when faced with the animals, who come in and “rip off crops” and “take relatives’ lives”.
Zimbabwe is not alone in making this argument - in neighbouring Botswana, which was long a safe haven for elephants, the government legalised hunting, arguing there are too many elephants.
Kitso Mokaila, Botswana Environment Minister, said: “I understand where they [campaigners] come from, when they don’t live with the problem they only see it on TV screens as a nice cuddly animal – I don’t have that experience.
“I’ve personal experience where I’ve lost family, I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost citizens so that is the reality.”
ITV News' Africa Correspondent John Ray on what Zimbabwe's plans are
Zimbabwe, which has a reputation for corrupt and incompetent government, already sells elephants to Chinese zoos, a trade branded cruel by campaigners.
The country claims there are 84,000 elephants in space big enough for only 50,000 within its borders and that money from ivory sales would help poor communities living with the animals.
Around 90% of African elephants have been wiped out in the past century mainly due to the ivory trade, the World Wildlife Federation claims.
Elephant poaching has been getting dramatically worse, the federation says, in parts of Africa in the last ten years, mostly because of growing demand for ivory in China and the Far East.
They report around 20,000 African elephants are being killed every year for their ivory - working out to around 55 each day.