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SOS Rhino : In the News :  Slaughtered to the Brink of Extinction

Slaughtered to the Brink of Extinction

  Business Day (Johannesburg)
February 4, 2003

Sarah Hudleston

UP TO 40% of the animals enjoying the protection of Zimbabwe's national parks have been slaughtered or removed for sale to foreign countries. In some cases, game has been sold with the knowledge and co-operation of national parks board officials.

In addition, 50% of wildlife in the country's private conservancies has been poached, with some species in those areas almost on the brink of extinction.

This is the estimation of the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, Johnny Rodrigues, whose organisation is battling to stem the illegal sale of Zimbabwe's wild animals to countries around the world, including South Africa.

The species which is perhaps most under threat is the black rhino, which has, since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, enjoyed an increase in population numbers thanks to the efforts of national parks and private game conservationists. But since the seizure of white owned farms and nature conservancies began in 2000, these rhino have again come under threat. A fortnight ago, the butchered and dehorned carcasses of four black rhino were discovered near Sinamatella Camp in the Hwange National Park. Rodrigues now fears that more gory evidence of killings may soon come to light.

Nkai game farmer Richard Pascall is fighting a battle to save his herd of 40 black rhino. His farm, Gourlays, was previously listed for expropriation, but has now been delisted. Yet the presence of aggressive war veterans on his property and the lack of support from the police to uphold the court ruling on the matter have forced him to move to neighbouring Turk Mine.

The National Parks Board has mooted the idea of dividing his herd and relocating them to Hwange National Park's Sinamatella Camp and to the Zimbabwean side of the Trans-frontier Park formerly Ghonarezhou National Park where, according to Rodrigues, virtually every animal has been wiped out in recent years.

Pascall, who operates Zimbabwe's most successful black rhino breeding programme, says: "I am busy talking to national parks at the moment, and they say that they cannot afford to remove the animals. Each animal costs at least $5000 to relocate.

"So for the moment, they are fairly safe."

Apart from the obliteration of Zimbabwe's wild life through poaching, even more repugnant to Rodrigues is the wholesale theft of game from private conservancies by Zimbabwean hunters, parks officials and businessmen.

Rodrigues estimates that up to 250 endangered Batleur eagles have been captured and sold to buyers in the Middle East.

A white professional hunter is reported to behind this lucrative business that nets tens of thousands of US dollars.

"In some cases animals are literally being stolen from private game conservancies after the farmer has been evicted from his farm and the animals are being sold to zoos and game farmers in other countries."

One case involves the capture of leopards and lions from a game reserve near Marondera for sale and shipment to a zoo being built in Abuja. Nearly a year after being shipped to Nigeria, these big cats are still in their shipping cages, very thin and listless.

A giraffe also shipped to Abuja for a children's park, died while being transported.

Animals suffer while the deal makers make profits.

The alleged main deal maker behind the theft and sale of game is prominent Harare businessman, Eddie Kadzombe, who last month, together with acting director of national parks Vitalis Chadenga, is said to have appropriated 160 sable from a private game conservancy in the Chinhoyi area.

The sable, which have a market value of R4000 each, were then moved to an enclosure, roughly the size of a football field, where they were to be quarantined before being shipped to SA.

According to Rodrigues, the deal went sour, and a legal battle is still being fought in the courts between the buyer in South Africa, Kadzombe and his cronies and the legal owner of the sable.

Meryl Harrison of the Zimbabwe Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was alerted to the case when she heard that the sable were dying due to overcrowding, underfeeding and from infections resulting from overgrown hooves. One heavily pregnant cow died as she was too weak to deliver her calf.



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