Farmers meet poachers

An angry meeting looms here tomorrow when embattled conservancy owners come face-to-face with marauding self-styled war veterans accused of widespread rhino and elephant poaching in the area.

Despite signs throughout the National Parks, poaching has continued unabated.
Despite signs throughout the National Parks, poaching has continued unabated.

According to notices for the meeting seen by The Zimbabwean, the National Parks and Wildlife Authority has invited 'indigenous wildlife operators', as the invaders are called, and the rightful conservancy owners.

The notice said the meeting was being convened to educate game farmers about new hunting quotas to be issued by the Authority this season. The meeting will take place at Hippo Valley country club.

The stage is set for confrontation as the wannabe wildlife farmers have failed to raise money to buy equity on existing properties. The director-general of the Parks Authority, Vitalis Chadenga, said earlier this year that a formula was being worked out for the new entrants to buy equity on conservancies but they all failed to borrow from the banks.

The dispute has spawned vicious poaching in the region, where units of the army have been deployed to bolster the out-gunned and outsmarted parks scouts. Investigations show that, contrary to government claims that the poachers are all from South Africa, local gangs of war veterans are behind an upsurge in rhino and elephant poaching. Some of the gangsters, including ex-soldiers, were arrested recently and army weapons found at the scene.

“The issue of poaching is related to the ownership disputes which the government created by proposing that we co-exist with people who have no capital, no expertise and basically nothing to offer besides being a nuisance,” said Clem du Toit, a conservancy manager.

“Now we have all sorts of people engaged in poaching, but claiming to have been directed to be on our farms by the state.”

Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke intervened at the height of confrontation between militant Zanu (PF) members and farmers last year over the lucrative hunting areas, which the Mugabe government had previously protected when other farms were taken.

The conservancies attract cash-rich hunters from all over the world and bring in millions annually. However, they have become the target of senior party hawks who now want them for themselves – as it becomes apparent that there will be no more land to grab after the next election.

Unlike the other farms which the government broke up willy-nilly, conservancies have proved difficult to tear apart because of the dangerous nature of some of the wild animals and the sensitivity of the ecology.

At the alleged instigation of Zanu (PF), high-profile individuals have taken over vast tracts, resulting in one case in the death of hundreds of crocodiles.

Two black rhinos were killed at Ruware ranch and another two at another two at Devure conservancy recently.

Zimbabwe is desperately trying to protect its remaining population of rhinos in the face of massive attacks by regional poachers sponsored by Chinese syndicates. Police have confirmed that the Chinese are the main buyers of tusks hunted illegally in Masvingo.

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