Hard Times for Wildlife in Zimbabwe

The Associated Press
Wednesday, October 18, 2006; 10:43 PM

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The economic chaos engulfing Zimbabwe is decimating the country's once teeming wildlife, according to a conservation group, which painted a grim picture of nature reserves staffed by poorly trained rangers who cruelly kill the animals they are meant to protect.

In one case, rangers pumped at least 40 bullets into an elephant suspected of encroaching on a settlement in remote northwestern Zimbabwe, said the independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force in a report released Tuesday.

A witness told the task force the elephant appeared to have been "kneecapped" in the first bursts of fire. Several minutes and at least 40 shots later, a single heavy caliber shot was heard.

The rangers used AK-47s, while heavier firepower might have meant a more humane death. The animal's meat was sold to local residents, the task force said.

Another elephant was shot 16 times.

Both animals were shot in full view of "disgusted and heartbroken" tourists, some of whom vowed not to return to Zimbabwe, said the task force, which was formed in 2001 by a group of local environmental activists concerned about illegal poaching and government seizure of wildlife preserve land.

"On the one hand, Zimbabwe is trying to promote tourism, and on the other it is destroying any chances of reviving it," said the task force in its latest monthly report.

No comment was immediately available from the government or state wildlife officials.

Christina Pretorius of the South Africa-based International Fund for Animal Welfare called the situation in Zimbabwe's nature reserves "outrageous. Absolutely outrageous."

"Zimbabwe wildlife is absolutely unmanaged," she said.

In total, at least five elephants were shot by rangers looking for a rogue elephant that killed a safari park caretaker in the Chirundu district in the Zambezi River valley on the border with neighboring Zambia, 190 miles northwest of Harare, the conservation task force said.

Problems with rogue elephants have increased in Zimbabwe as the mighty mammals roam into villages in search of food and water. Although no reliable figures exist, Zimbabwe's elephant population is generally thought to be on the rise, as it is in neighboring South Africa. But whereas South Africa is able to manage its herds, there is no control in Zimbabwe.

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