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SOS Rhino : In the News : Zim wildlife pillage continues

Zim wildlife pillage continues

Mail & Guardian
Yolandi Groenewald
13 August 2003 15: EAR).

Beleaguered Zimbabwean farmers say war veterans and hunters from South Africa and Botswana are stripping game farms of their wildlife. And even when Zimbabwean authorities arrest alleged perpetrators, political intervention allows them to walk free.

The farmers now say they have had enough and will fight back on their own to protect the remaining wild animals.

In May the Mail & Guardian reported that South African hunters and safari operators were exploiting the chaos in Zimbabwe. But Ben Zietsman, chief executive of the Matabeleland branch of the Commercial Farmers Union═s (CFU), has told the M&G the carnage is continuing.

Farmers say that local authorities are writing out hunting permits for animals they do not own to turn a fast buck. ˝Settlers and local district councils have claimed the wildlife on listed properties [listed for expropriation in Zimabwe═s land resettlement programme] for themselves and are selling it off to the first unscrupulous buyer that comes along,ţ Zietsman says.

"Numerous South African hunters have been fingered [by the CFU and the Zimbabwean police] in the past few months for taking advantage of the confusion over land and wildlife ownership, and for contributing to the uncontrolled depletion of the wildlife resources on listed properties in Zimbabwe."

Evicted farmers in the area are livid about the annihilation of wildlife herds they have built up over many years. Many of these farmers have lost their land to supposed war veterans, but still hope that they may eventually reclaim their farms. But they are asking what will be left, Zietsman says. Pete van der Bergh, owner of the Musuma ranch near Buluwayo, has been grappling with an alleged illegal commercial hunter from Botswana. And Johnny Rodrigues, president of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), a conservation action group, says investigations by Van der Bergh and other farmers in the area have identified the hunter ä whose name is known to the M&G.

"These bastards have virtually killed all my game and have destroyed my conservancy in 90 days," Van der Bergh says. "They have killed everything that walks, crawls or flies."

He says the alleged illegal hunters have killed about 16 buffalo, 150 sable, 100 eland, 100 wildebeest and 30 zebra on his farm. Van der Bergh says they even killed the crocodiles in the river.

"If I do not get help I will be confronting the hunters anyway. I am alone. I will be armed and I have a feeling that there will be a shootout ... Maybe this will stop these bastards. I will take matters into my own hands."

Even if the illegal hunters are caught, political connections ensure that they are not held for long, Zietsman says.

Eight South African hunters recently returned to South Africa after alleged illegal hunting activities. They were arrested last month, but charges were dropped after they produced hunting permits from the local authorities.

Farmers in the area suspect that in June the South African hunters shot a rhinoceros in the Bubiana conservancy in southern Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean police are still pursuing the South Africans═ alleged involvement.

Zietsman says the hunt took place under the authority of the local rural district council, which is mainly run by the new settlers. The men were only released after a senior Zimbabwean politician, who recently acquired a farm in the same district, intervened, he says. ˝He applied pressure on the investigating police officers to release the men and drop the charges laid.ţ Johan Brummer, one of the detained group, denied that they had engaged in illegal hunting. ˝We had perfectly lawful permits,ţ he told the media shortly after returning to South Africa. ˝We did not do anything illegal.ţ He said the group was released after the police confirmed their permits were legitimate. ˝They also confirmed that no quotas were exceeded.ţ