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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : September 2000 : At least 1,600 animals killed by poachers on Zimbabwe reserve

At least 1,600 animals killed by poachers on Zimbabwe reserve

By Griffin Shea
Agence France Presse
September 11, 2000

HARARE - Poachers have killed at least 1,600 animals on one of Zimbabwe's biggest privately-owned wildlife reserves during the last six months, taking advantage of the ongoing land crisis to plunder the park, officials said Monday.

Until this year, the Save Conservancy was a success story of government and private partnership working to preserve endangered species, such as the black rhinoceros.

But when veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war began leading squatters in occupations of white-owned lands in February, the 23 privately-owned properties comprising the conservancy were not spared.

"We actually have absolute physical evidence of what has gone" on 11 of the 23 properties that make up the reserve, said estate manager Dave Stockil, who works on three of the properties.

"We do have evidence that the war vets have been poaching. War vets have been arrested that were poaching," said Stockil.

The main problem, however, is that police have failed to remove squatters from the reserve lands and now impoverished villagers living nearby are turning to the reserve's animals for food, he added.

"The surrounding communal areas are now taking advantage of the war vets, and they're using that as a screen," he said.

Officials at the conservancy, one of the world's largest private wildlife preserves, said they have found the carcasses or skins of 600 impala, 300 kudu, seven buffalo, two elephants and a lion on 11 of the properties.

Estimates of the extent on poaching on the other 12 properties are expected in the coming weeks.

Government officials visited the reserve during the weekend for the first time since the land invasions began.

Minister of Environment and Tourism Francis Nhema reportedly lashed out at leaders of the war veterans and told them none of the conservancy's lands would be resettled.

The war veterans spearheaded the land occupations movement to push the government into speeding up its land reform program, which seeks to seize white-owned farms and resettle them with poor blacks.

"This is not agricultural land under government regulations. This is national park land and we want to resolve the issue under these terms," Nhema told the war veterans, according to state-run daily The Herald.

"This culture of destruction of our natural environment should stop," he added.

So far the government has identified seven properties at the conservancy for seizure as part of its land reform program. But Nhema told land owners at the conservancy they would all be removed from the list of resettlement lands, according to Stockil.

The eight-year-old reserve, made up of former commercial cattle ranches, has succeeded in building up its population of black rhinoceros -- one of the most endangered large mammals in the world.

Black rhinos' numbers at Save were growing at 10 percent a year -- one of the fastest rates in the world. Since the land invasions began six months, four rhinos have been injured in snares.

Wardens at the conservancy have not been able to catch and treat the fourth rhino. The other three are recovering, though one is expected to remain lame, Stockil said.



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