SOUTH AFRICA: July 3, 2007
JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe, once one of Africa's premier safari destinations, has suffered severe wildlife losses on private game ranches and conservancies due to forced farm seizures and the country's economic crisis.
Animal welfare group the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce (ZCT) said the farm seizures ordered by President Robert Mugabe's government in 2000 triggered an estimated 83 percent slump in wildlife on private farms and conservancies.
The drop also closely followed a dramatic decline in the number of Zimbabwe's private wildlife ranches and conservancies, which the group blamed largely on government land policy.
"We based the estimations on the fact that we believe there were 620 private game farms prior to the land invasions and according to our records, there are only 14 left today," the task force said in a statement.
"According to our records, there were 14 conservancies prior to the land reform and now, the only one left of any consequence is Save Valley Conservancy," it added.
Zimbabwe is home to some of Africa's largest game reserves but experts say several animal species such as impala, warthog, kudu and wildebeest are at risk from rampant poaching by people struggling with hunger and rising poverty and from cross-border trophy hunters.
The welfare group said it studied 62 farms, 59 of which reported wildlife losses totalling 42,236 animals including the lion, elephant, python and blue duiker that were already on the list of endangered animals.
Zimbabwe's state National Parks and Wildlife Authority says animals in its larger game reserves have not been affected by massive poaching and remain safe.
The ZCT says the story on private land is different. It chose 17 of the 62 farms that kept proper records and supplied the task force with up-to-date statistics in order to estimate the total percentage of wildlife lost on the private ranches.
It estimates that at least 15,704 animals were killed on the 17 farms between 2000 and 2007, an average of 923 animals per farm, largely to be sold as meat.
"Because of the land reform and the way that it was done it was just free for all on the farms and the animals were the first to go," ZCT chairman Johnny Rodrigues told Reuters.
"We are talking about the low rainfall areas where you can't grow crops," he added.
Rodrigues said a lot of the animals were poached by the war veterans who seized the farms for food and cash amid meat shortages caused by the farm takeovers.
The group said wildlife was still "fairly abundant" in Hwange National Park and Mana Pools but that in other parks visitors were reporting far fewer sightings.
Local wildlife officials say the country's elephant population has soared to more than 100,000 -- twice as much as the 45,000 it can sustain.
The farm seizures are partly credited with setting off the country's economic meltdown, which has resulted in widespread food shortages and massive commodity price hikes that have pushed inflation over 3,700 percent.
Story by Muchena Zigomo