Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Zimbabwe set to sell its wildlife as drought dries up water holes and grass

BY JEFFREY MOYO JUNE 20 2016, 15:12

MASVINGO — As prolonged drought dries up water holes and grass, Zimbabwe’s government is taking an unprecedented step to keep the wildlife in its game reserves alive: It is selling the animals to private owners.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) has invited bids to purchase the animals in its reserves, hoping private game reserves with cash and spare water and fodder may be able to get them through the worst drought the country has seen in three decades.

ZimParks has not specified what animals might be sold, their cost or whether they could be exported to other countries. But the country’s wildlife includes a range of big tourist draws, including elephants, rhinos and lions.

"We have asked individuals and private gamekeepers to step in and buy wild animals in the light of the drought, but the number of animals to be sold would depend on the bids we receive," ZimParks spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo told journalists.

Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s minister for environment, water and climate, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the country aimed to use resources from the sales to support the other animals in its reserves through the drought.

"We must mobilise resources for the upkeep of our wild animals, like elephants, by selling," he said.

The Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency estimates that 620 Cape buffalo died in 2015 as a result of the ongoing drought.

Such statistics are one of the drivers of the current auction.

There are no clear reports about the number of wild animals the country has sold so far, but in 2015 Zimbabwe exported to China 100 elephants, out of a population of more than 84,000, according to ZimParks. Each fetched $40,000.

In the past, the country has offered a range of animals for sale, including elephants, lions, impala antelope and zebras.

‘Stealing the future’?

To auction animals, ZimParks authorities have invited "expressions of interest" from bidders with the capacity to manage the wildlife. Bidders are required to pay a nonrefundable fee of $50.

But critics warn the sell-off could both hurt the future earning power of the country’s national parks and fuel corruption.

"Selling wildlife here has nothing to do with the El Nino-induced drought or any excuse; this is mismanagement, corruption and greed. The government is stealing from the future generation of this country," charged Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the animal rights group, Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force.

He said the government had warned as early as July 2015 that a strong El Nino phenomenon threatened to dry up pastures and drinking water and affect wildlife.

"So why didn’t they store food for wildlife way in advance, knowing that Zimbabwe has droughts periodically?" he asked.

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