Harrison in the Save Valley, Zimbabwe
The message fixed to a tree in the
game reserve is stark: "Farm
No 31," it reads, "Dealers in Death." It was put there
by Zimbabwe's so-called war veterans to intimidate white landowners
on the 850,000-acre Save Valley Conservancy, near the border with
The war veterans - unleashed by President
Robert Mugabe to seize white-owned farms - are not, however, killing
slaughtering animals on an unprecedented scale.
Already they have
forced out the owners and poached every animal on at least three
of the 22 huge ranches that make up the conservancy.
Now they are pouring on to neighbouring ranches and repeating the
The poaching is indiscriminate and
no animal is spared. The main targets are antelope, wildebeest
and zebra, but lion, elephant,
leopard, buffalo and giraffe have all been killed by the poachers
and their snares.
Wildlife authorities say that unless
urgent action is taken to stop the slaughter, the conservancy's
entire stock of
wildlife will be
destroyed within three years.
The pattern is being repeated on game
reserves across the country with wildlife losses of more than 70
per cent reported in many areas.
In the neighbouring Bubiana conservancy, four of the 10 ranches
have been seized and cleared of wildlife.
Barberton Lodge, has lost more
than 400 animals to poachers in the past three years, including
71 zebra, 63 kudu antelope and four giraffe.
Fourteen black rhino, a critically endangered species, have been
caught in snares, each requiring extensive surgery to save their
The state-owned national parks have
also been targeted by poachers. Four rhino have been killed in
Hwange national park. Nationally,
an estimated 100 black rhino have been slaughtered for their horns
- which can fetch up to £60,000 - in the past three years.
Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force,
an umbrella group of wildlife charities, said: "If it
carries on at this rate, within 10 years there will be no wildlife
left anywhere in Zimbabwe."
As I travelled through the Save Valley
last week there was an eerie quiet. "You used to see lions and
leopards around here," one
landowner told me. "And you could always hear them." No
more. The lion and leopard have been silenced.
At one ranch I was
shown row after row of skeletons - kept for research purposes -
that belonged to animals killed by the poachers' snares.
privately owned commercial reserves are being hit hardest. Invaders
seize the land, which is largely unsuitable for farming. Desperate
for food, the veterans lay metal traps to catch animals to eat
or to sell to others.
Mike Clark, the chairman of the Commercial
Farmers' Union in Masvingo province, said: "A couple of years ago this
area was teeming with wildlife. Now you can walk around all day and
not see a single
Another ranch-owner, who declined to
be named, said: "They
see wildlife as meat on legs. We know there are food shortages but
are using the land-reform programme as an excuse for out-and-out
theft and they won't leave until there is nothing left."
poachers are ruthless and wardens on the conservancy face violent
attacks if they intervene. Two weeks ago poachers forced the chief
scout on the Humani reserve to lie on his stomach while they beat
him viciously with sticks, breaking the bones in his feet.
reserve borders the three Save Valley ranches that have been "poached
out" and is under severe pressure from the "settlers".
Hundreds have poured in recently, building villages of small wooden
Roger Whittall, 60, whose family has
owned the reserve for more than 80 years, is unwilling to talk
about the settlers for fear of
He will talk only about "the poachers" and says his biggest
concern is that the penalties are too low.
The police have made more efforts recently but the courts give poachers
a rap over the knuckles and they are back poaching the next day," he
The penalty for killing wildlife is
usually a fine of 5,000 Zimbabwe dollars (less than £4) or "community service",
which can mean weeding the court's garden or washing the magistrate's
upheaval in Zimbabwe has caused a near-collapse of the tourism
industry, particularly of safaris, which were hugely popular until
the land invasions began three years ago.
Game hunting - in which
mostly American, European and South African hunters pay to shoot
an officially approved quota of animals - is
managing to stay afloat, although numbers are down by almost 50
Mr Whittall, whose son Guy and nephew
Andy are former Zimbabwe international cricketers, said his hunting
business was down by "30
to 40 per cent". His wife, Anne, admits that times are "difficult" but
says they have no plans to leave "unless it becomes really impossible.
We have to hang on and hope".
Mr Rodrigues accused President
Mugabe's government of doing nothing to prevent the tragedy. He
are sitting back while our wildlife heritage is being wiped out and
businesses are being
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