Rhino figures state ‘secret’

Zimbabwe's dwindling rhino population figures are now being treated as a state secret, investigations reveal.

A rhino in Matopus National Park outside Bulawayo.
A rhino in Matopus National Park outside Bulawayo.

Conservationists, wildlife experts, and even officials from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management all confirm that they can no provide the public with true figures of Zimbabwe's rhino population.

Some say the country has about 300 rhinos, others, however, say this figure is grossly exaggerated and the population is much less than that. Poaching is rampant in southern African countries, especially in Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

"The figures we regularly get from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management are untrue and very misleading," said a conservationist based in the Hwange National Park who works with rhinos. "While I cannot be quoted officially, due to state secrets that we have to observe, I can, however, tell you that only about 30 rhinos are left in Zimbabwe right now. I come from an area which has them and I know what I am talking about."

Environment Africa Chief Executive, Charlene Hewatt, better known as the "Rhino Girl", said she was shocked by the figures. She said she was sure this was due to the fact that many businesspeople, especially from overseas, still believed that a rhino’s horn would sell for millions.

"I cannot comment on the figure of 30 rhinos," she said. "I think there are about 200 to 300 rhino still left in Zimbabwe. It is a very sensitive issue and we are not allowed to speak about it, especially when we are quoted by the Media. I know the numbers, but I cannot say it because of state security considerations."

She said she had approached senior government officials on the way forward, but her requests had fallen on "deaf ears".

In Zimbabwe, according to official statistics from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management, the Black Rhino population has fallen from 2 000 in the 1990s to 450, while that of the White Rhino stands at about 200 today. This department, which falls directly under the Ministry of Environment has been accused of corruption and bribery. Some very senior officials have already appeared in court for alleged corruption, bribery and poaching.

"More than 340 rhinos have been shot in South Africa," Hewatt said. "The poachers used helicopters and left the rhinos to die after shooting them. More needs to be done by the government to save our rhino."

A conservationist from Canada said that the Chinese had stopped using the rhino horn as an afrodisiac.

"The Chinese no longer use the rhino horn as an afrodisiac," he said. "They now know that this is all a lot of hogwash and just meant to bring business to poachers. China was a very huge market for the rhino horn and it is pleasing to know that they no longer need horns."

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