A charity has slammed Zimbabwean plans to sell the rights to shoot as many as 500 elephants for more than £50,000 ($70,000) per animal to help fund the upkeep of its national parks.
A spokesman from the Born Free charity told Yahoo News UK the plans were "destructive, disruptive and inhumane".
Zimbabwe has the world’s second-biggest elephant population, the largest being found in neighbouring Botswana, and its hunting season will resume this year after the coronavirus pandemic prevented tourists travelling there in 2020.
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.
"We are not supported by central government so we need this tourism."
The right to shoot an elephant will cost between $10,000 and $70,000 depending on its size. The elephants will be shot in hunting concessions rather than the parks frequented by photo-safari tourists.
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.
Conservation and animal welfare charities, however, have rejected claims that trophy hunting is an effective way of recouping tourism losses.
Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free, the UK-based wildlife conservation charity, told Yahoo News UK: "Trophy hunting is a destructive, disruptive and inhumane process, with very little - if any - of the money made from hunts going towards conservation.
"The funds generated by hunts are more often directed to governments, hunt organisers, or abroad.
"The argument that hunting removes redundant animals is simply not true. Hunters seek out the most impressive trophy, often an adult male. These are key animals in the group and their death can lead to the death of many more animals.
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"When one animal is killed it affects the whole social structure of the elephant community.
"Rather than look to trophy hunting to generate funds, parks should look at the value of elephants in terms of carbon sequestration. A person may pay $50,000 to kill an elephant, but if that animal were allowed to fulfil its natural lifespan it could be worth up to £1.7million in offsetting carbon emissions.
"We need to change the conversation of how countries such as Zimbabwe fund the protection of their species."
Jones' calls were echoed by Simiso Mlevu, spokeswoman for Zimbabwean environmental and human rights advocacy group the Center for Natural Resource Governance.
She said the decision to allow elephant hunting to continue was "appalling."
"We strongly condemn trophy hunting — a practice that agitates wild animals and escalates human-wild life conflicts," Mlevu said in a statement.
She added: "It is almost certain that surviving families of wildlife families that witness the senseless gunning down of their family members mete out vengeance on the hapless local villagers.
"Contrary to government arguments that trophy hunting is meant to assist with conservation, the practice is motivated by greed and often the money is not even accounted for. There is a need for more innovative and eco-friendly measures to improve revenue generation from photo safaris and tourism in general."
The ZPWMA cites is vision as "to be the world leader in sustainable conservation" on its website, and claims to "conserve Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage through protection and sustainable utilisation of natural resources for the benefit of the present and future generations".
ZPWMA has issued permission for 500 elephants to be killed on trophy hunts every year since 2004, but does not refer to this on its website.
Nobody from ZPWMA was available to speak to Yahoo News UK on Friday.
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