Zimbabwe is dispatching a delegation to Washington seeking the lifting of a ban on ivory trade with indications that this is mission impossible as the Barack Obama administration has tightened screws on ivory trade.
Zimbabwe has dispatched ecologist, Hillary Tendeupenyu, to Washington ahead of a high-level National Parks delegation expected to lobby a US congressional panel in an attempt to overturn a ban on ivory sales that it says will lead to the total collapse of the sport hunting industry.
Parks spokesperson, Caroline Washaya Moyo, confirmed that Tandehupenyu was already in Washington for initial talks and to test the waters.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced the suspension of imports of sport-hunted African elephants sourced in Zimbabwe and Tanzania in April saying, "in Zimbabwe, available data, though limited, indicates a significant decline in the elephant population. Anecdotal evidence, such as the widely publicised poisoning last year of 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, suggests that Zimbabwe's elephants are also under siege."
The organization added that given the current situation on the ground in both Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the Service is unable to make positive findings required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act to allow the importation of elephant trophies from these countries.
It argued further that "additional killing of elephants in these countries, even if legal, is not sustainable and is not currently supporting conservation efforts that contribute towards the recovery of the species."
But the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president, Emmanuel Fundira says the US ban was done unilaterally.
Fundira says the ban has also affected thousands of rural Zimbabweans, who benefit from ivory trade under the Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMFIRE), which is premised on the conservation of wildlife and other natural resources as a livelihood option for rural communities in marginal areas of Zimbabwe.
But when it comes to lifting the ban, Zimbabweans are not singing from the same hymn book as chairman of the Zimbabwe conservation taskforce, Johnny Rodrigues says the ban must be maintained as only politicians and well-connected people are benefitting from the safari operations.
Rodriguez maintains that Zimbabwe is exaggerating the carrying capacity of the elephants to justify sport hunting.
Environment Minister Savior Kasukuwere says he is confident that Washington will lift the ban and he confirmed Harare will be sending a delegation for the third time in less than a year to lobby the US government.
The first delegation met Secretary of State John Kerry and the second met senior officials in the Obama administration.
But the Obama administration has upped its opposition against ivory trade. At least 1,165 ivory specimens were seized by US. border agents and inspectors between 2009 and 2012, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The administration also destroyed more than six tons of seized tusks and carvings at the rocky mountain arsenal national wildlife refuge outside of Denver. US.
Fish and Wildlife Service director, Dan Ashe, says destroying the ivory was to send a message that the US is keen to stamp out illegal trade in ivory.
Despite a 1989 global ban on commercial ivory trading, the last five years have seen a dramatic surge in poaching that threatens to wipe out the roughly 500,000 elephants in Africa, experts say.
A growing catalog of evidence suggests that terror groups like Al-Shabaab - the Somalia-based Al-Qaeda affiliate - are partly funded by dirty money from the black market ivory trade. A report by the elephant action league christened ivory the "white gold for African jihad, white for its color and gold for its value."
Zimbabwe has a stockpile of about 70 metric tons of ivory ‘harvested’ from elephants, and five tons of rhino horn, on which there is a global ban on trade.