Zimbabwe, July 11, 2003 (ENS)-- The message fixed to a tree in the
game reserve is stark: "Farm No 3. 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 Mozambique.
The war veterans, unleashed by President
Robert Mugabe to seize farms owned by whites, are not only killing
people, they are 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 onto neighboring
ranches and repeating the process.
The poaching is indiscriminate, and
no animal is spared. The main targets are antelope, wildebeests
and zebras, but lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalos and
giraffes have all been killed by the poachers and their snares.
Wildlife experts 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
percent reported in many areas. In the neighboring 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 zebras, 63 kudu antelope and four
giraffes. Fourteen black rhinos, a critically endangered species,
have been caught in snares, each requiring extensive surgery to
save their lives.
The state owned national parks have
also been targeted by poachers. Four rhinos have been killed in
Hwange National Park. Nationally over the past three years, an estimated
100 black rhinos have been slaughtered for their horns, which can
fetch up to $90,000.
One ranch displayed row after row of
skeletons, kept for research purposes, that belonged to animals
killed by the poachers' snares.
The 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.
"A couple of years ago, this area
was teeming with wildlife. Now you can walk around all day and not
see a single animal," said Mike Clark, chairman of the Commercial
Farmers Union in Masvingo province.
A ranch owner, who declined to be identified,
said, "They see wildlife as meat on legs. We know there are
food shortages, but they are using the land reform program as an
excuse for out-and-out theft, and they won't leave until there is
The penalty for killing wildlife is
usually a fine of 5,000 Zimbabwe dollars (less than $6) or "community
service," which can mean weeding the court's garden or washing
the magistrate's car.