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SOS Rhino : In the News : Mugabe's man claims top reserve for 'hunting'

Mugabe's man claims top reserve for 'hunting'

  September 01 2003 at 07:55AM

By Gustav Thiel

Amid weekend reports that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is building a R60-million retirement mansion, it has emerged that one of his closest allies has claimed the world-renowned Hwange Wildlife Estate to be used for hunting purposes.

The estate is home to the "presidential herd" of about 500 elephants, which were given special presidential protection in a decree issued by Mugabe in 1991.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairperson of the Zimbabwean Conservation Task Force, said on Sunday that the governor of Matabeleland, Obert Mpofu, "has just simply taken the Hwange estate".

"The land will now be a free-for-all for poachers and for him (Mpofu) to allow hunters to kill the animals," he said.

The Hwange Wildlife Estate is state-owned and comprises 14 000ha of prime land.

Rodrigues said he "would not be surprised if he (Mpofu) next moves to claim land in the Hwange National Park for his own purposes" because there were no fences separating the estate from the park.

Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe's biggest game reserve at 14 650km2.

Rodrigues added that people like Mpofu "are putting a death sentence on the future heritage of the country and the benefits that wildlife conservation would have had for the people of the country".

It has been estimated that more than $400-million (about R2,9-billion) has been lost in Zimbabwe's southern region because of rampant poaching.

Bambo Kadzombe, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Advisory Council, said: "Three thousand animals have been poached so far on commercial game farms and Zimbabwe's conservancies, mainly at Save Valley, Mahenye, Bubiyana conservancy, Bubye Valley and Chiredzi River conservancy."

In 2002, more than 100 poachers had been arrested and Kadzombe said that if the poaching continued species could become extinct. Rodrigues said it was with that in mind that Mpofu should understand the "folly of allowing hunting at Hwange".

He said over the past five years more than 300 of the remaining black rhino in Zimbabwe had been killed.

A wildlife researcher based in Zimbabwe said the taking of the land by Mpofu could jeopardise the inclusion of Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou Park in the Limpopo Transfrontier Park, combining three national parks in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.