By Sam Kiley in West Nicholson
The Times (London)
April 21, 2000
Zimbabwe - CONSERVATIONISTS behind one of Africa's most successful
black rhinoceros breeding programmes issued a warning yesterday
that illegal invasions of a vast private game reserve could herald
a surge in poaching of the endangered species whose horns are worth
thousands of pounds in Yemen and the Far East.
The evacuation of white farmers and managers from seven properties
which comprise the Bubiania Conservancy of 360,000 acres has left
only 50 unarmed black African game scouts to guard 86 rhino, including
a dozen born in the last year, against poachers who sell their horns
for Pounds 10,000 a kilogram (2.2lb).
Keith Pilz, manager of the Barberton Lodge and estate at the centre
of the conservancy, said: "Each rhino has probably got about
four kilograms of horn, front and back. That means there's a huge
resource out there just waiting to be plundered and we can do very
little to stop it because we have been told we cannot get back to
More than three quarters of Zimbabwe's black rhino, which are owned
by the State, are kept on white-owned game ranches. The rest of
the estimated 300 are under close guard in secluded areas of the
national parks around the country after they were decimated during
the 1970s and 1980s.
Their horns fetch huge prices in Yemen, where they are used for
dagger handles, and in the Far East where they are said to have
medicinal properties and can cure impotence.
Most of the farms in Matabeleland have been evacuated by their
white owners because of the wave of illegal farm occupations and
intelligence that groups of armed men, possibly even members of
the Zimbabwean security services, have been deployed to give the
occupations by "war veterans" a violent edge.
"We're being advised to sit out the weekend, when there is
traditionally a lot of drinking, before trying to get back to our
farms," said Mr Pilz.
The Bubiania Lodge evacuated eight clients as well as its white
staff on Wednesday after warnings that they were in danger of being
attacked by agents working under the orders of the ruling Zimbabwe
African National Union, which has little support in southeast Zimbabwe
where 7,000 Matabele were murdered by the army's Fifth Brigade during
political clashes during the 1980s.
Memories of those massacres haunt all racial groups in the south.
But at Bubiania the immediate concern is for the rhino.
They were rescued from the Zambezi Valley in 1992 and re-located
to the private ranch with funding from the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Since then they have enjoyed a staggering population growth rate
on the conservancy which is now self-financing from tourism and
the sale of other species. The conservancy has also provided sanctuary
for 120 elephant from a stock of 30 which were rescued from the
Gonorezhou National Park during the 1992 drought.
In Bubiania, Mr Pilz said, even if the white owners and management
were able to remain on the land, he feared there would be little
they could do to halt rhino and game poachers who are expected to
strike at any minute.
"If the police and the army is not going to give us any back-up
we would not stand a chance against the poachers," he said.
"They are very heavily armed, and well organised. The situation
is very, very bleak."