The illegal killing of Zimbabweâ€™s iconic lion, Cecil, which has resulted in international outrage, is simply the tip of the iceberg – as numerous illicit deals have been going on in the safari sector since the advent of the chaotic land reform programme of 2000.
Wildlife activists and players in the embattled wildlife sector have described the inhuman killing of the lion as just one example of many covert and illicit hunting and poaching activities bedevilling the sector.
â€œThe killing of Cecil is simply one of a long list of awful things that have happened to wildlife all over Zimbabwe over the past 18 months,â€ said Sharon Pincott, an Australian who ran the Presidential Elephant Conservation Project in Zimbabwe for the past 13 years. â€Cecilâ€™s death should be viewed as a culmination of all of these tragic things â€“ since this is much bigger than just him and illegal hunting.â€
Pincottâ€™s project involved the protection, monitoring and promotion of a unique clan of over 500 wild African elephants in Zimbabwe. She left Zimbabwe last year citing frustrations in her work.
â€œI cannot allow myself to be linked to such new depths of collusion and cluelessness. I cannot keep hitting my head against a brick wall, year after year with lack of care and lack of respect and understanding of these elephants growing and growing despite all the efforts. Any level of trust and respect that I might once have had is now completely shattered,â€ said Pincott when she left Zimbabwe.
Rampant illegal hunting
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), concurred with Pincott.Â â€œThere is a lot of unethical hunting going on here. The Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) doesnâ€™t work any more,â€ he said.
Apparently, senior government officials are aware of the shenanigans that characterise the operations of the wildlife sector – but no stern measures have been taken to curb these illicit flaws, although a senior official claimed it was not tolerated. â€œAnyone who has been caught abusing office in that nature or any other illicit activity is no longer with us,â€ said the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) Director-General Edson Chidziya. â€We cannot say it will never happen in future because there is always one or two rotten apples but our stance is that we donâ€™t tolerate it,â€ he added.
He admitted that there were incidents where parks officials participate in poaching.Â â€œElephants are the most targeted, we lost over 200 last year. In terms of rhinos we have lost thousands over recent years. We have been on guard and managed to minimise it but of late we are seeing an increase. This year alone we have lost about 19 rhinos,â€ he said. ZPWMA is mandated to conserve and protect the countryâ€™s wildlife sanctuaries.
Environment Minister Oppah Munchinguri-Kashiri attributed the problem to lack of resources. â€œIt is important that we all ensure that our Parks and wildlife Management Authority is adequately resourced to conserve and protect our biodiversity from organised poaching as happened in this case,â€ she said recently. â€œFailure to adequately resource the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority can easily subject our anti-poaching units to those offering huge financial rewards for illegal activities.â€
The minister said Zimbabwe had already started the process of engaging the American government to extradite the Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer, who killed Cecil so that he can be tried in court in Zimbabwe.
â€œI have already consulted with the authorities within the police force who have the responsibility of arresting the criminals. Iâ€™m happy that the two other local criminals have already appeared before the local courts but we have certain processes that we have to follow,â€ she said.
The police will have to take the first step. â€œThen they will approach the attorney generalâ€™s office who will then approach the American government and I understand that the process has already started,â€ she said. The extradition process is extremely complex and lengthy and experts said it was highly unlikely that the US government would hand Palmer over to the Zimbabwe government, given the state of prisons in the country.
The lion was lured out of the park onto Antoinette Farm (which is occupied by Honest Ndlovu) using an animal tied to a vehicle – where Palmer shot it with a bow and arrow.
Several provisions under the Parks and Wildlife Act were breached.
Hunting revenue dwindles
Most black wildlife conservancy operators in the 53 districts in Zimbabwe where the Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) is operational have been accused of failing to plough back into the community proceeds from safari hunting and photographic tourism.
Some of the Rural District Councils officials whose local authorities administer Campfire admitted that revenue from hunting concessions had dwindled. â€œBefore the huge land reform programme in 2000 we used to realise a lot of money from hunting concessions. Some of the money would be ploughed into the community through Campfire,â€ said the chief executive officer of one of the local authorities, who spoke strictly on condition of anonymity because of fear of victimisation.
Before the escalation of nefarious hunting and poaching activities following the chaoticÂ land â€reformâ€ programme, proceeds from trophy hunts used to support various community projects such as rehabilitation of clinics schools, boreholes and roads.
The new black safari operators lacked financial resources and expertise to run the conservancies properly.Â This also marked the beginning of widespread corruption in the industry.
With a huge demand from mostly Europe and USA for trophy hunting, the politically well-connected in Zimbabwe saw a wonderful opportunity to make money.
This has resulted in underhand dealings, which involve international syndicates and senior government officials and the result is that the countryâ€™s comatose economy is losing millions of dollars of potential revenue.