Zimbabwe is selling rights to shoot up to 500 elephants this year to generate public revenue, the country's wildlife agency said Monday, weeks after the animals were listed as endangered.
Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo said elephant hunting was allowed during the country's April to October rainy season.
He said revenues from the controversial activity would be particularly important this year due to the economic setbacks of coronavirus.
"We got the authority to hunt a maximum of 500 elephants and that's how we make money," Farawo explained, noting that a single elephant hunt could cost up to $10,000.
Hunters "require more assisting personnel like trackers, protective hunters and chefs," he added.
"All this will be paid for and means more for revenue."
But conservation groups have voiced concern over hunting animals increasingly threatened with extinction.
The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature last month listed the African savanna elephant as "endangered" and the African forest elephant as "critically endangered", citing population declines due to poaching and loss of habitat.
Both species had previously been treated as a single category and listed as "vulnerable".
"Poaching has continued unabated despite trophy hunting under the guise of funding conservation," said Simiso Mlevu, spokeswoman for the Zimbabwe-based Centre for Natural Resource Governance.
Mlevu also argued that hunters usually targeted large and healthy animals, leaving smaller, less aesthetically pleasing specimens that were less attractive to tourists.
Despite dwindling population numbers, Zimbabwe is faced with a surplus of elephants -- estimated at around 84,000 for a carrying capacity of 50,000.
Recurrent droughts have added to the strain of overburdened national parks, forcing the pachyderms to seek food and water further afield.
Farawo defended the decision to continue issuing hunting permits, noting that the practice has been going on since 1991 and there was "no need to make noise about it".