IN July Zimbabwean lion Cecil, a star attraction among tourists, was killed by an American trophy hunter Walter Palmer causing worldwide outrage, while later that month Zimbabwe exported 24 elephants and 10 lions to China, further infuriating conservationists who saw this as plunder of the country’s wildlife resources.
The developments, which attracted emotive international media attention, were preceded by the 2013 killing of more than 100 elephants at Hwange National Park by poachers using cyanide. Zimbabwe Independent reporter Hazel Ndebele interviewed Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chairman Johnny Rodrigues — who played a role in exposing Cecil’s killing and the exportation of animals to China — on wildlife conservation issues. Find interview excerpts below:
HN: What is the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force’s position on the exportation of animals such as elephants to China and what can be done to preserve the animals?
JR: We don’t have an official position regarding the exporting of animals. All we can do is alert the world as to what is going on here (in Zimbabwe) and hope that enough pressure is put on the authorities to stop the exports.
As for preserving our animals as a nation, it is difficult because the government runs everything and it’s very hard to fight them.
HN: How much is each elephant worth?
JR: If these elephants are left alone to live their lives, they can earn up to US$1 million in tourism each year. For the 24 elephants exported to China, a sum of US$480 000 was received, meaning each elephant was sold for US$20 000. America offered much more than this for the elephants, but their offer was turned down.
HN: How sound is the security situation of national parks? Is there enough security to protect animals, especially from the poacher menace?
JR: It obviously is not secure enough. Cecil’s death is proof of that.
HN: What is your take on trophy hunting?
JR: I am against trophy hunting. If our local people are caught killing an animal to feed their families they go to jail, but a rich American comes here and shoots an animal to hang on his wall and he is allowed to do that. It’s not fair.
HN: You announced that Jericho the lion (Cecil’s brother) had been killed, yet in fact he was alive. What really happened?
JR: Jericho is in fact alive and well and has adopted Cecil’s cubs. We were given three separate confirmed reports that it was Jericho. We could not reach the research station in Hwange to verify if Jericho was indeed alive after they reported that they were receiving a signal from his collar. We apologise for reporting that he had died, we were confident that our sources were in fact correct. This was a case of mistaken identity, but a lion was in fact killed, although we were relieved that it was not Jericho. We were, however, not happy that yet another lion had been killed.
HN: We understand that some government officials serve game meat when hosting their parties after killing animals such as buffalos and elephants. Is this true?
JR: I am totally against this. There are other animals they can eat such as cattle or chicken — they don’t have to shoot endangered wildlife.