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SOS Rhino : In the News : Government Top Brass Muscles in On US $8M Conservancy

Government Top Brass Muscles in On US $8M Conservancy

  The Daily News (Harare)
September 10, 2003

AT least 3,200 animals valued at about US$8 million (Z$65.92 billion) are under threat at Halglen Animal Conservancy in Matabeleland South Province as a result of renewed pressure from influential government officials for the conservancy owners to leave their properties, it emerged this week.

Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, which represents the country's conservancy operators, told the Business Daily that the officials had launched "Operation Clean Sweep" as disturbances in the commercial agriculture sector continue more than a year after President Robert Mugabe's government announced an end to its controversial land reforms.

The number of conservancy operators in Zimbabwe has plunged from 84 before government-sanctioned invasions of mostly white-owned farms in February 2000 to only five to date.

"The country has lost over US$4 billion from poaching and illegal hunting since the time the government embarked on the land reform programme. The conservancy has 3 200 animals valued at between US$7 million and US$8 million," Rodrigues said.

"The owners of Halglen are now under pressure to give up their conservancy under this operation where the top government officials want to take control of over 3 200 wild animals."

Rodrigues said cases of poaching in the conservancy were on the increase and the task force had approached Matabeleland South Province governor Obert Mpofu to intervene and help save the animals.

Mpofu yesterday refused to answer questions from the Business Daily and continuously switched off his mobile phone each time this paper tried to speak to him.

Mpofu is also accused of turning a blind eye to the poaching activities which also involve some influential figures in the province.

Zimbabwe has lost more than 100 000 animals to poaching on conservancies and other game farms since the year 2000.

Because of this a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting held in October last year refused to allow Zimbabwe to export ivory and other elephant products saying this would increase poaching activities.

Zimbabwe was, however, allowed to keep its 89 000-plus elephant population in Appendix 1, which only allows for local trading in ivory.

Halglen covers an area of 45 000 hectares which is completely unsuitable for crop farming and is one of the very few places in Zimbabwe that still has wildlife and the owners have gone to enormous expense to protect the 3 200 animals. The property is kept under 24-hour security by trained scouts who patrol against illegal hunters and poachers.

"We have approached Matabeleland South governor Obert Mpofu to assist the farms and animals from being victimised by the 'big boys' who are hunting and poaching the animals for their benefit, but he is of no help to us," said Rodrigues.

"What the government must know is that the parks and game ranches are a heritage and conserve wild animals for the future generations not for the government and VIPs."

Zimbabwe earned US$30 million from spot hunting in the country's private game sanctuaries and the state-run national parks. Despite a policy document being drawn up by the National Parks and Wildlife Authority promoting sustainable development under the land reform programme, the government is yet to consider it.

The objectives of the proposed document include equitable access to land and wildlife resources as well as sustainable management of wildlife as a way of discouraging rampant poaching of game.

The document also said virtually all land in the country had been earmarked for agriculture under the land reform programme at the expense of the wildlife industry which generates scarce hard cash.