Elephant exodus reported from troubled Zimbabwe

By ANGUS SHAW Associated Press Writer
elephant.jpgHARARE - Growing pressure from poaching and human
encroachment in Zimbabwe has driven hundreds of elephants to migrate from
the country and at least one leopard to stalk an upmarket Harare suburb,

The independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force appealed in its latest

monthly bulletin for more action – and money – to preserve the troubled

nation’s wildlife.

In Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown, "humans are encroaching more and more into

areas previously reserved for wildlife," the task force said.

As many as 400 elephants have crossed the Zambezi River, which separates

Zambia from northern Zimbabwe, in recent months, said Johnny Rodrigues, head

of the task force.

Three elephants also roamed into the eastern border city of Mutare this

month and state wildlife authorities "want to shoot them before they kill

somebody," he said.

The task force and a Zimbabwe animal group received official authority to

capture and transport the elephants to Chipinda Pools, believed to be their

original home area 125 miles (200 kilometers) to the south.

"The problem is funding for the relocation," Rodrigues said. State game

rangers "won’t wait much longer before destroying the elephants."

In northern Harare, rangers also wanted to track and kill at least one

leopard, which also is suspected of having a cub. Rodrigues said the task

force set up drugged, baited traps for predators so they could be returned

to the wild, but none has been caught since a guard dog was attacked earlier

this month.

Tourism and photographic safaris have dropped sharply during years of

political and economic turmoil since the often violent seizures of thousands

of white-owned farms began in 2000, disrupting the agriculture-based economy

in the former regional breadbasket.

Longtime ruler President Robert Mugabe blames Western sanctions for the

economic crisis that has led to acute shortages of food, gasoline and the

most basic goods.

Poaching of small animals has intensified, with villagers torching the bush

to drive even rodents and rock rabbits into traps for food, conservationists


Rodrigues said more animal fencing was needed at wildlife preserves to

combat poaching and the escape of animals from their natural habitat after

being made skittish by gunfire.

Conservationists already have raised the alarm for Zimbabwe’s rare rhinos

after a sharp increase in poaching over the past year because of a breakdown

of law enforcement in the country.

The head of the state Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Morris

Mtsambiwa, told state media Monday that his nation faced censure from CITES,

which regulates trade in endangered species, for the surge in rhino poaching

blamed on "well-coordinated local, regional and international syndicates."

He said one rhino poacher, identified as a former Zimbabwean army officer

equipped with a heavy caliber rifle, was shot and killed by rangers in

southern Zimbabwe last week. The poacher’s accomplices escaped.

"Rhino poaching is now becoming a very serious problem for us. We now have

to answer serious questions at CITES," he said.

Associated Press (AP)

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