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In Zim, your tourism dollars at work

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Must read for those thinking about travelling to Zimbabwe under dictator Robert Mugabe. . . .

The economic chaos engulfing Zimbabwe is
decimating the country’s once teeming wildlife, according to a
conservation group, which painted a grim picture of nature reserves
staffed by poorly trained rangers who cruelly kill the animals they are
meant to protect.
In one case, rangers pumped at least 40 bullets into an elephant
suspected of encroaching on a settlement in remote northwestern
Zimbabwe, said the independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force in a
report released Tuesday.
A witness told the task force the elephant appeared to have been
“kneecapped” in the first bursts of fire. Several minutes and at least
40 shots later, a single heavy caliber shot was heard.
The rangers used AK-47s, while heavier firepower might have meant a
more humane death. The animal’s meat was sold to local residents, the
task force said.
Another elephant was shot 16 times.
Both animals were shot in full view of “disgusted and heartbroken”
tourists, some of whom vowed not to return to Zimbabwe, said the task
force, which was formed in 2001 by a group of local environmental
activists concerned about illegal poaching and government seizure of
wildlife preserve land.
“On the one hand, Zimbabwe is trying to promote tourism, and on the
other it is destroying any chances of reviving it,” said the task force
in its latest monthly report.
No comment was immediately available from the government or state
wildlife officials.
Christina Pretorius of the South Africa-based International Fund for
Animal Welfare called the situation in Zimbabwe’s nature reserves
“outrageous. Absolutely outrageous.”
“Zimbabwe wildlife is absolutely unmanaged,” she said.
In total, at least five elephants were shot by rangers looking for a
rogue elephant that killed a safari park caretaker in the Chirundu
district in the Zambezi River valley on the border with neighboring
Zambia, 190 miles northwest of Harare, the conservation task force
said.
Problems with rogue elephants have increased in Zimbabwe as the
mighty mammals roam into villages in search of food and water. Although
no reliable figures exist, Zimbabwe’s elephant population is generally
thought to be on the rise, as it is in neighboring South Africa. But
whereas South Africa is able to manage its herds, there is no control
in Zimbabwe.
Numbers of other animals, by contrast, have plunged since President
Robert Mugabe began seizing white owned-farms and game reserves five
years ago.
“The population of antelopes is being decimated by poaching, be it
for the pot or for the illegal sale of their body parts,” said
Pretorius.
Rhino populations have also been hit hard by poaching, she said.
One witness told the task force that four years ago the Zambezi
River flood plain teemed with animals. “Today you are lucky to see an
impala (African antelope) down there over a weeklong period,” the
report quoted the witness as saying. The impala used to be one of
Zimbabwe’s most widespread and prolific animal species but has fallen
victim to rampant poaching.
The group said that in the 5,400-square-mile Hwange National Park,
the population of lions was down from more than 2,000 to 18 males and
about 200 females.
Wildlife experts said this was largely due to the shortage of
antelope and other prey, combined with the breakdown of artificial
waterholes. They said this was forcing the lions to move to areas —
mainly in Botswana — where they could survive.
The report revived criticism of the state wildlife authority,
accused of indiscipline in its ranks, with some disgruntled and
underpaid rangers profiteering on meat and illegal ivory.
The National Parks and Wildlife Authority lets its rangers and
staffers in bush areas shoot a “meat quota” for themselves and
sometimes supply surplus meat to villagers bordering reserves to
discourage poaching.
Visitors to the state-run Chivero conservancy, 20 miles west of
Harare, this week reported seeing no wildebeest and were told by
rangers most of the herd was shot for “ration meat.”
Like most government departments, the parks authority has suffered
from the nation’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain
in 1980. Acute shortages of hard currency, gasoline, equipment and
spare parts have brought some of its operations, including some
anti-poaching patrols, to a near standstill.
Its revenues have been hit by a sharp decline in foreign tourism in
five years of political and economic turmoil.
In the Hwange National Park, only donations of fuel and volunteer
labor have kept 34 of its 53 artificial watering holes supplied with
water from wells equipped with gasoline-fueled pumps.
The task force said it recently bought 16 new pumps and provided
spare parts for others. The watering holes were created as a
conservation measure in dry areas of the park to attract wild animals —
and tourists — away from natural water sources where an overpopulation
of animals was destroying their habitat.
The task force alleged hunting concessions, controlled largely by
members of the ruling party elite, were spilling inside the park’s
boundaries, where ancient teak, redwood and mukwa trees were also being
commercially felled in violation of conservation laws.

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