Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Law and order breakdown leading to wildlife whipeout

Law and order breakdown leading to wildlife wipeout, group claims

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Poaching gangs and poor communities are allegedly behind a major rise in poaching, writes Bill Corcoran in Harare

ZIMBABWE’S ONCE thriving wildlife is being wiped out by crime syndicates and poor rural communities taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order, local conservationists have said.

Statistics provided by conservationists from the southern African country reveal that last year alone the country lost about 300 rhinos, 20,000 zebras and over 6,000 elephants to poachers operating in national parks,
conservancies and game farms.

Conservative estimates by conservationists put the total loss of wildlife to poaching over the past 10 years at more than half a million animals.

Members of the security forces have also reportedly been given elephant meat, which they can then eat or sell to feed their families, in lieu of wages under a government programme designed to overcome the state’s inability to pay its employees wages.

Umbrella conservation group the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) has estimated that of the 640 game farms and 15 conservancies that had wildlife 10 years ago, only a dozen are still in existence in a meaningful way, due to President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme.

“Most farms have been destroyed and have no animals left. The fencing that surrounds the wildlife areas has been stolen to make snares by hungry villagers who have been forced into poaching because of food shortages [over the past few years].

“In addition, poaching gangs – some of which have links to senior government officials – are also involved in the illegal trade of skins and tusks. The political crisis is compounding this situation as the poachers are never
brought to book; there is a very low conviction rate in the courts,” said ZCTF chairman Johnny Rodrigues.

The crime syndicates involved in the poaching sell their animal products to markets in southeast Asia, especially China and Vietnam, where they are used in traditional medicines rather than as aphrodisiacs, according to experts.

Former World Wildlife Fund representative in Zimbabwe, Raul du Toit, said the poaching in the country’s national parks was now probably more extreme than in the remaining conservancies due to a lack of government funds for anti-poaching activities.

However, he disagreed that senior government officials were behind many of the poaching gangs, saying there was no proof to suggest they were involved in poaching on a large scale.

“There has been a lot of politically loaded statements regarding the nature of poaching in Zimbabwe. But the reality is most of the big game poaching is carried out by well-organised gangs with direct links abroad to the illegal trading networks, rather than politicians.

“The big problem is that the price for ivory and rhino horn has gone up dramatically in recent years, making it far more profitable than it was.

“Poachers can sell directly to the markets via a single person in Zimbabwe. In the past there was a number of middle men to go through, which reduced their profits,” he said.

The United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species decision last month in Doha to grant four southern African countries, including Zimbabwe, the right to participate in controlled trading in ivory
has also led to fears the move will further facilitate that illegal trade.

Wildlife tourism was once one of Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earners, but the beneficiaries of the land reform programme have failed to look after the animals and sustain their numbers, leaving the once lucrative industry on the verge of collapse.

Du Toit said that one of the ways to combat poaching was to make local communities stakeholders in the conservancies and game farms, so they saw the benefit of keeping the animals alive for tourism purposes.

Currently under the land reform initiative, which is in its final stages, only individuals with links to the government have been given a stake in the industry.


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