Zimbabwe plans to sell rights to shoot hundreds of elephants in a desperate bid to make up for tourism income lost during the Covid pandemic.
As many as 500 elephants could be killed as the hunting season kicks off over the southern hemisphere’s winter season.
Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) told ITV News hunting is "nothing new" and that the tourism it brings is vital to financing conservation efforts.
He said they have had to revise their budget down by 70-80% and that failure to raise funds could leave them unable to afford proper defences against poachers.
“We have a bad need for more money,” he said, although conservation activists question their motives.
"We are not supported by central government so we need this tourism."
Elephants will be priced at around $10,000 (£7,200), he said, but just as vital to their income is money tourists would spend on vehicles, professional trackers, and accommodation.
"Hunting is as old as humanity," he added. "This happens every year in the dry season."
In March this year, African forest elephants were listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while Savanna Elephants – which are larger and found in the south of the continent – are endangered.
The World Wildlife Federation considers both to be “vulnerable” and says poaching is the main threat faced by Savanna elephants.
Zimbabwe is believed to be home to more elephants than any other country, bar neighbouring Botswana.
Zimbabwe environmental advocacy group the Center for Natural Resource Governance said they have "grave concern".
"We believe that animals do not need to pay with their lives to ensure that their species are protected," the group said.
"It is the responsibility of the government to avail funds for the protection and conservation of biodiversity."
They added: "Elephants live as herds and they defend and protect each other like any other animal species that live as families.
"Killing one elephant has serious repercussions and can cause huge emotional distress to the entire herd.
"Whilst trophy hunters, armed with guns, are well trained and also enjoy extra protection from rangers and evacuate after their temporary hunting escapades, it is the locals who bear the brunt of wildlife vengeance."
It’s not just Zimbabwe that has turned to elephants for raising revenue. In December last year, Namibia put 170 elephants up for sale in a move criticised by conservation activists.
The Namibian Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Tourism claims there are 24,000 elephants in the country.