ZIMBABWE - Destruction of wildlife, the environment and sensitive eco-systems





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As the last of Zimbabwe's white farmers and their workforce wait to be evicted from their farms, countless wild and domestic animals continue to be brutally killed, maimed and tortured. For wildlife, in the country's south-eastern conservancies of Bubiana, Save and Chiredzi, the death toll is worse than the 1992 drought which utterly devastated wildlife populations. Today, in Bubiana it is thought that 40 rhino have been lost to poachers' snares, and a snared calf, unable to escape, was found to have burnt to death in one of the poachers' fires which swept through the conservancy killing everything in its path. Along with vast numbers of plains game, elephant and the critically endangered African Wild Dog have also fallen victim to the poacher's snares. 'I removed a snare from a female that had actually bitten off the lower half of her rear leg to try and break free,' reports Save's conservator. It is a perilous position for those attempting to fight this massacre. Scouts are intimidated and attacked regularly - one had the top of his skull sliced off with an axe whilst another had deep cuts from machete blows to his back. Another was killed by a bow and arrow.

Funds to sustain these brave men are running low. To help the scouts and preserve the little that is left of Zimbabwe's wildlife, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation's Zimbabwe Appeal asks for your help. All donations will go towards funding and equipping the scouts on the conservancies. Without donor help it is feared no one will be left to halt what is becoming the country's worst man-made disaster.

Current Situation

At 840,000 acres Save Valley in Zimbabwe is one of Africa's largest conservancies. It supports about 1,200 elephant and has one of the most successful black rhino breeding programmes in Africa. Since the invasions, about 25% of the conservancy has been almost fully occupied by settlers. Over the two years 1,089 animals have been recovered dead from the snares (including elephant, wild dog, cheetah, leopard, and rhino). The numbers of recorded animals killed in no way reflects the true horror of the extent of the killing as it only accounts for the animals that were found by the patrols. Many, many more will have escaped detection as 'no go' areas, where the scouts have been forbidden access by the 'war veterans', have grown into poaching playgrounds. In other areas there simply aren't the funds to support anti-poaching patrols and it has become a free for all. Some conservancies feel they now have, at most, two months left before their wildlife is annihilated completely.

A more significant indication of the extent of the poaching rests with the number of snares recovered. Since last August the number of snares found on Save equated to about 40 kilometres of wire, but more than 80 kilometres of fencing has been destroyed. This suggests that a potential 427,000 snares have been made and only 27,000 have been recovered. This minefield of cable snares, scattered throughout the conservancies, act by slowly strangling, and starving, their victims to death. In addition to snaring, the poachers use dogs to run the animals down, where they are then speared or axed to death.

On Bubiana an estimated 30,000 animals have been killed in the past 18 months. Many have had only their limbs cut off for the poacher's pot leaving the rest of the carcass to wastefully rot.

As well as the loss of animals, the destruction of habitat has been severe. Bubiana has lost an estimated 240,000 trees in the clearing of land for subsistence plots whilst 50% of Chiredzi's 270,000 acres have been destroyed. Rob Style, Chiredzi's Vice Chairman, reports, 'The worst thing is the Mopane forests, which take years and years to regenerate, are being hammered really hard. Big chunks of forest are being cut down and burnt, opening up the bush, and exposing vast tracts of soil to erosion. A whole ecosystem is being destroyed.'

A 5,000 hectare property on Chiredzi has been entirely burnt out. Says Theresa Warth, 'It all went up in a day and they're still burning what's left now. Burnt land is easier to poach than thick bush. It enables the poacher to hunt with dogs as the animals are in clear view. The animals are rapidly losing condition as there is no graze or browse for them now and hundreds of smaller animals have also been killed in the fires.' Recently Theresa found a warthog that had been stabbed 30 times in the face as the poachers had tried to extract it from its burrow. It was a pregnant female and the poachers had removed the front and back leg, leaving the rest to rot. 'They're doing so much damage. What's happening is worse than a drought as it's not selective, the strong are being taken out as well as the weak.'

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force reports that in the Midlands Conservancy area, 4 of the game ranchers have lost 80% of their wildlife. On land that has been officially 'fast-tracked', there is no game left at all. It is significant that game is being shot not snared in these areas and reports suggest the police and senior war veterans are behind the poaching. This highly organised crime has resulted in an influx of bush meat being sold in Bulawayo and surrounding towns.

For the rhino, only recently brought back from the brink of extinction, this lawless, uncontrolled epidemic is especially threatening. Private farms and conservancies protect 70% of the national total of rhinos which are all state owned. A government that once granted the rhino's custodianship to the conservancies is now encouraging invasions into their habitat and turning a blind eye to a crime that is destroying them. After South Africa, Bubiana has the second biggest rhino population in the world. Here, where a quarter of Zimbabwe's 400 rhino live, 50% are thought to have been killed. The most recent to have been found had been snared and then stabbed to death. Another southern conservancy, Lynwood Ranching, has found 7 of its 36 black rhino in snares. In Matusadona National Park two rhino were poisoned with pesticide and one had its horn hacked off.

With this evidence it's not surprising to hear reports that there has been an influx of rhino products into the Orient, and the suggested source is Zimbabwe.

Rhino are not the only protected species to be threatened. Since the elections, at least 33 elephant have been poached (shot not snared) in the Kariba area, and 65 anti-personnel mines have been uplifted from game paths. It seems unbelievable that in this chaos, Zimbabwe are proposing that the elephant be down-listed by CITES so that the country can start trading in ivory and other elephant parts.

If any animals survive this current holocaust it will be because of the tenacity and bravery of the scouts on the afflicted conservancies. A special mention needs to be made for them as their life is becoming increasingly difficult and morale is low. Every day they face severe mental and physical abuse from gangs of poachers.

On Save a scout received serious 'panga' (machete) wounds across his back from a 'war vet' calling himself 'Killer'. Another had the top of his skull sliced off with an axe. Another was recently killed by a bow and arrow. A Chiredzi scout reports, 'If we arrest one of the poachers in the area, they come in bulk to fight against us. They have axes, big knives and bows and arrows. I was beaten by twelve of the poachers and my eardrums were perforated. I'm still having pains in my chest and back.' The man responsible for these beatings twice failed to appear in court, and the hearing was then postponed for a year - he is still free and has never been tried!

Meanwhile conservancy owners are facing the daily fear that one day their diminishing resources will run dry and they will no longer be able to pay for scouts to patrol. For many this has already happened. Clem Coetsee has been involved in wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe for 40 years. After 18 months of pressure and intimidation, he abandoned his property on Chiredzi. On this property alone, the cost of the damage to fencing amounts to US$46,000. 'They bring cattle in and have burnt and chopped down trees. They take the wood out into the communal land for firewood. Whatever poles they can get and our fencing all goes into building homes on the communal land. They've destroyed the borehole and pump. I have a dam with a 4 kilometre pipeline which they're also digging up and stealing. There's nothing left there, not even a duiker.' With all his assets gone, Coetsee can no longer afford to pay for anti-poaching patrols. Poaching is so bad that in the rocky hills even the hyrax have been slaughtered - one poacher was found with a pile of twenty-two.

The longer this madness is allowed to continue, the more likely it will be that these wildlife saviours will be forced to watch the animals they've fought to protect, fall to the poacher's knife.

From the standpoint of Zimbabwe's wildlife, the country is fast approaching the point of no return. The country is dying a rapid death as it destroys the very means it has to shape a productive and sustainable economic future. Whilst it's understandable that a country on the brink of starvation should turn to every means it can to survive, it is incomprehensible that the government has so little control over its own economic assets, appearing to favour short-term mass slaughter over long-term sustainable growth.

Zimbabwe's extraordinary natural environment has to be regarded as a gift from God. To disrespect and mistreat this gift is to kill the very foundation on which life grows. Everyone in Zimbabwe will be the poorer for this negligence.

Digby Nesbitt, Chiredzi's Chairman put it very succinctly when he said, 'Every month it costs me Z$250,000 to pay my game scouts - how long can we keep this going whilst they're destroying it around you at a rate you can't imagine? Sooner or later, financially it's going to cripple you. It's a lose-lose situation. Nobody's going to gain from it. The whole thing has been motivated by a government trying to stay in power, it doesn't matter if the economy collapses or people starve, it's just a case of staying in power at any cost. It's a crisis situation and we need immediate action, the longer we wait the more animals are being killed and the less likely it'll be that we can ever make use of wildlife in this country's economy. All we want to do is preserve the little bit that's left.'

We have to be mindful that it's not only the government that has a duty to perform. I believe that as individuals we all have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent this country's suicide. To be aware of what is happening and silently utter our dismay, is not enough. It's wrong to believe we have no power to make a difference - let us all take responsibility for what is happening and make our indignation and outrage heard.

Write to: Minister Francis Nhema, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, P.O.Box CY286, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe.

If you would like to make a contribution to help sustain and increase the number of scouts protecting wildlife on the conservancies, you can contribute:

By post: with a cheque payable to DSWF Zimbabwe Appeal - sent to 61 Smithbrook Kilns, Cranleigh, Surrey, GU6 8JJ, England

or By phone: (+44 1483 272323) with credit card details and specifiying that it is for the DSWF Zimbabwe Appeal.

N.B. Before making a donation you should be aware that some of the conservancies have been almost entirely funded by hunting operations, and they will continue to be so once a situation of normality has returned. Save in particular relies on hunting to sustain the conservancy as their conservator explains, 'The hunting business ensures that the conservation project can continue to survive and that the conservancy remains intact in its biodiversity.' Whilst I personally do not support hunting, and nor does DSWF, I do believe that if we don't do all that we can to protect what is left in the conservancies, there will be no wildlife left in this corner of the country and no means for economic development for local communities - be it through hunting or photographic safaris.

For more details and information on other David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation projects, please go to www.davidshepherd.org. For more information on the situation in Zimbabwe please see a full report on http://cathybuckle.com/intro.htm

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