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Collared elephant bull shot adjacent to the Gonarezhou National Park

The Gonarezhou Conservation Trust (GCT), a partnership between the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), is saddened to announce the shooting of another one of its collared elephant bull by a professional hunter and his client in an area adjacent to the National Park on the afternoon of 11 April 2018.

Gonarezhou / Frankfurt, 17 April 2018

The GCT, on behalf of ZPWMA and FZS, is extremely disappointed by the loss of this collared elephant, particularly considering the ongoing efforts to engage with hunting operators outside of the Park’s boundaries. Incidents such as these threaten to undo much of the progress made and reinforce the need for stricter adherence to the ethical code of conduct for any hunting around the Park. It is a significant blow to conservation efforts in the greater ecosystem and can only serve to reinforce GCT’s commitment to protecting both these animals and their habitats.

As a result of the long-running and successful partnership between the ZPWMA and FZS, the elephant population within the National Park is very well protected. The Park itself has a globally significant and healthy elephant population estimated at over 11,000 individuals and at a density of 2 elephants/km² is one of the highest concentrations of elephants in Africa. Currently there are no fences that limit the movement of elephants or other wildlife out of the Gonarezhou National Park and they are free to wander into the wider ecosystem. In an effort to understand the dynamics of this population, and specifically their behaviour in the context of the wider ecosystem and the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), a number of exercises were carried out to place satellite collars on a total of 22 individual elephants in the Park by GCT, the University of Zimbabwe and the Makoholi Research Institute. This would assist in highlighting the potential options for natural linkages within the GLTFCA ecosystem as well as to provide data that could be used in mitigating the conflict between humans and elephants outside of the park boundary.

On Thursday 12 April 2018 at 10h54, through a report made to the ZPWMA Officer in Charge at Mabalauta in the south of the National Park, GCT were alerted to the shooting of one of the Park’s collared elephant bulls in a hunt conducted by a professional hunter and his client outside the Gonarezhou in the Gonakudzingwa area. Whilst it is not illegal for a hunter to shoot a collared elephant, the general position taken by the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association (ZHPGA) is that it is unethical and should be avoided wherever possible. In his statement recorded after the hunt, the operator was well aware of the ethical stance and, as a result of previous similar incidences, was aware of the potential for collared individuals to roam into hunting areas outside of the Park. Thus, as a precautionary measure, GCT has taken to suspend the ranger assigned to monitor the hunt and, as per recommendation, has confiscated the ivory pending the outcome of an investigation.

In the wake of a similar incident on the 7 March 2018, GCT had intensified its efforts to monitor the movement of the collared elephants. Whilst the capability to observe the movement of these collared animals in real time does not currently exist, GCT is in the process of developing a monitoring system that can provide real time alerts of collared individuals leaving the boundary of the Gonarezhou National Park. It is thus particularly unfortunate that this capability was not available in time to potentially prevent this tragedy.