REVELATIONS by Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri that government will export more animals to China, including elephants and lions, is not just bad news for wildlife conservationists and animal rights groups, but also future generations.
Wildlife lovers expected government to increase its conservation efforts following a disastrous 2015, where the country made international headlines for wildlife exports, rampant poaching and illegal hunting — made more prominent by the killing of Cecil — a 13-year-old, rare, black-maned lion outside Hwange National Park in July.
An arrogant Muchinguri, seemingly aware that her statements would draw condemnation from animal lovers, this week said, “we will not apologise to anyone. Not even once, because they are our elephants and our people live with a huge population …we will sell them more without hesitation.”
Other than elephants and lions, Muchinguri said Zimbabwe also plans to sell hyenas and baboons to China.
In June last year, Zimbabwe exported 24 sub-adult elephants for US$24 500 each.
The jumbos were taken to Chimelong Safari Park in Guangdong Province of China, amid protests by conservationists who questioned why Zimbabwe was selling animals to the Asian country which has a record of cruelty to animals, especially those kept in zoos.
Before exportation, Chinese veterinarian doctors prepared the elephants for export by, among other exercises, caging and familiarising them with an environment similar to a cargo plane so as to condition them for the long-haul flight, to minimise shock and stress.
Experts say elephants are sensitive animals, which react to environmental changes, hence animal lovers’ condemnation of the exports.
Zimbabwe Conservations Taskforce director Johnny Rodrigues, who last year led other conservationists into signing a petition with more than 10 000 signatures to stop the exportation of baby elephants, said government’s intention to sell more animals showed that those in power were insensitive to animal rights.
“It’s a very irresponsible sort of answer from a minister. By exporting the wild animals, Zimbabwe is selling its own heritage. These animals need the older bulls to train them and discipline them. It is sad to hear and puts Zimbabwe in a bad spot,” he said.
“They try to argue that population this and that it’s increasing, in actual fact, lions in this country are on the decrease. Faced with this serious El Nino drought, more animals will die. Instead of looking for long-term methods to make animals survive, some of which are empowering the people and making them stakeholders, we are selling them. I think the minister should do a course in wildlife.”
Government defends the selling of elephants to China saying the country has an excessively large population of jumbos which are causing extensive damage to the environment and threatening the existence of other animals, in addition to coming into conflict with humans.
Officials say Hwange National Park is currently holding about 53 000 elephants, whereas its holding capacity is between
20 000 and 30 000.
The minister said selling of the wild animals will help raise resources for the upkeep of the elephants and other wild animals that are facing serious water and food shortages.
Muchinguri’s comments were carried in major newspapers across the world, causing an outcry from global animal conservationists.
Conservationists also used her comments to highlight the plunder of wildlife in Zimbabwe, including incidents which went viral on social media last year, especially the killing of Cecil the lion.
Cecil the lion was shot dead by an American hunter Walter Palmer at Antoinette Farm in the Gwayi Conservancy area, on the outskirts of Hwange National Park.
His death helped to raise awareness of the plight of Zimbabwe’s animals.
Shortly after Cecil’s death, Zimbabwe was in the news again after more than 60 elephants were killed in Hwange and Matusadona National Park, situated on the shores of Lake Kariba, using cyanide poisoning.
The killing of the jumbos came three years after poachers killed more than 300 elephants using cyanide in Hwange National Park.
Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe president Isaiah Nyakusendwa said conservationists expected government to do more to preserve wildlife and the environment following a challenging 2015.
He said focus should not just be on wildlife but the entire environment.
“So much has happened to our natural resources, such as cyanide poisoning, death of Cecil the lion, destruction of wetlands, increased poaching, deforestation and veld fires were topical and have created a gap in conservation efforts in the country,” Nyakusendwa said.
“Cyanide poisoning at the Hwange National Park, though targeted at our precious elephants, escalated the death toll to other wildlife species, including vultures.
“This has affected the ecosystem through bioaccumulation effect. While we understand the need for trophy hunting as part of wildlife management system, the death of Cecil the mighty lion and several tuskers highlighted the need for sustainable and responsible management of our wildlife resources. We applaud the Environment ministry’s declaration on zero tolerance to poaching and we hope to see results thereof in 2016. We however, hope that there will be necessary legislation reviews to complement the minister’s efforts.”