November 2, 2000
Harare - Lawlessness on Zimbabwe's commercial farming areas by
thousands of squatters has claimed its first killing of a black
rhinoceros, one of the world's most endangered species, it was confirmed
A bull rhino on the "Save" wildlife conservancy in the
remote southeastern Lowveld region was snared and died last week,
said Clive Stockil, chairman of the conservancy.
It was the first black rhino to have been killed by poachers on
private land since 1992, shortly after a dramatic operation to move
rhinos away from almost certain death by poachers in the Zambezi
Valley in northern Zimbabwe, and on to the relative safety of privately-owned
"It is the only one that we have discovered, but we strongly
suspect that many could have been killed by invaders," said
Graham Connear, administrator of the conservancy, a unique experiment
where about 20 cattle ranchers in the early 90s agreed to join their
properties, sell off their cattle and to "farm" wildlife
instead. "Poaching is rampant and we are not able to move around
to assess the situation," he said.
Save and most other white-owned properties in the Lowveld are under
relentless siege by thousands of squatters, led by so-called war
veterans who have decimated huge areas of indigenous bush by chopping
down trees and by fire, and laid an almost impenetrable network
Clive Stockil, the founder of the conservancy, said the 45-year-
old rhino bull, named Penga, had been found last week by game scouts
with its rear left leg caught in a double-stranded snare made out
of wire cut from the ranch's game fence.
"Unfortunately, he had wrapped himself around a bush, he had
fallen at an awkward angle and he couldn't get back on his feet,"
Penga was anaesthetised with a dart gun, and the snare was removed,
before he was able to cut into the skin.
"We revived him and he got up, but he found it very difficult
to put weight on the injured leg," he said. Penga was under
constant watch throughout the night and into the next day.
"But he lay down at noon and died, before we could get back
to him to try and revive him again.
"It was complicated by the fact that he was very old. If he
it was a younger animal, I think we would have been more successful."
Penga was part of the first group of black rhinos to be moved to
the Save from the Zambezi where poachers had reduced a population
of over 2,000 black rhinos, the biggest wild collection of the species
in Africa, to about 170.
In the last 10 years at the Save, however, the rescued rhinos had
doubled their numbers to 72. "The poaching, the snaring is
still going on unabated," said Gerry Davison, environamental
affairs officer for the Commercial Farmers Union. Hundreds of animals
- antelope, giraffe, warthogs, cheetah, leopard and wild dog, also
endagnered - have been killed.
"Last week we flew over the area and the fence had been cut
in about 50 places and people are pushing cattle in," he said.
There have been repeated warnings that foot-and-mouth disease,
which is endemic among wild buffalo, could easily be spread among
domestic cattle moving on to the ranch. It could lead to a major
outbreak of the disease and force the suspension of exports of Zimbabwean
Game scouts have suffered continual intimidation and death threats
by war veterans, while police were "not making any attempt
even to appear to be unbiased", said Davison.
Earlier this week, scouts caught two poachers and shot one in the
foot when he tried to attack his captors with a machete. The scout
is under arrest for attempted murder.
"There is a conservation crisis down there," said Raoul
du Toit, a senior official of the World Wide Fund for Nature which
is heavily supporting Zimbabwe's rhino survival programme.
"We are very concerned about the decimation of not just rare
wildlife species there but of the whole wildlife resource base.
"The about 20 ranches that make up Save are among the 1,700
white- owned properties invaded since February last year when the
campaign of lawlessness and violence, urged on by Mugabe, began.
So far six white farmers have been murdered, thousands of farmers
and their workers have been savagely beaten and millions of US dollars
of property has been stolen or destroyed.
Mugabe has repeatedly defied court orders to have the squatters