Cablegate: Environmental Impact of the Current Crises On

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E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Environmental Impact of the Current Crises on
Zimbabwe's Wildlife

1. Summary: This report, focusing on the status of wildlife
in Zimbabwe, will be the first of several related reports on
Zimbabwe's deteriorating environmental situation. The
combination of land seizures, economic pressure, general
lawlessness, and hunger have taken a heavy toll on
Zimbabwe's wildlife. Attempts to quantify the situation are
difficult, but at the most basic level, it is possible to
estimate the impact of poaching on Zimbabwe as follows, from
least affected to most affected:
-- large animals in national parks
(negligible impact, possibly 2.5%);
-- large animals in conservancies
(minimal impact, possibly 5%);
-- protected animals (e.g., black rhino) in national parks
(limited impact, possibly 4-5%);
-- protected animals (e.g., black rhino) in conservancies
(limited impact, possibly 5-6%);
-- plains animals in national parks
(significant impact, in some areas as high as 30-40%);
-- plains animals in conservancies
(high impact, in some areas as high as 60%);
-- plains animals on private farms in commercial
agricultural regions
(catastrophic impact, upwards of 90%).
Although these numbers and percentages are estimates, and
subject to the inaccuracies inherent in estimation, the
scope of the problem cannot be overstated. Unless steps are
taken to limit the impact of the current depredation on
Zimbabwe's wildlife, the country will face a bleak
environmental future when the dust finally settles. End

2. While Zimbabwe has received widespread condemnation for
the devastating impact of poaching on wildlife, few reports
have documented the full extent of the damage. Poaching --
both on private and public land -- has escalated
dramatically due to numerous factors, including widespread
hunger, movement of "settlers" into lands previously
dedicated to wildlife, and the general breakdown of law and
order. Many poachers kill animals in an attempt to feed
their families. Many settlers kill animals while clearing
new land and attempting to establish dominion over newly-
occupied territory. In other incidents, commercial
operators are taking advantage of the relative chaos by
marketing "bush meat" and smuggling rhino horns. Some
highly subjective claims, such as one group's allegations
that "Ninety percent of Zimbabwe's wildlife has been
slaughtered," have gained widespread circulation despite the
lack of empirical evidence. However, while it is clear that
wildlife has suffered from the current political crisis,
quantifying the damage remains a Herculean task.

3. Many poachers throughout the country rely on wire
snares, which indiscriminately kill any animal unfortunate
enough to stray within reach. In other areas, communal
farmers or settlers use packs of hunting dogs to flush and
run down antelope, zebra, or other plains animals. Some
landowners have reported a pattern of settler activity in
which a settler will build a small stick-and-thatch hut as a
hunting base, and proceed to poach all animals within range
of that hut. Once the easy poaching is finished, the
settler will move on, clear enough woodland for a new hut,
and begin poaching the new territory. Although some of this
meat is undoubtedly filling the pot of hungry settlers, much
of this meat has reportedly made it to commercial butcheries
in the large towns. Some recent reports indicate that
poaching is reaching commercial proportions with
international implications. Several rhino poachers arrested
in July are suspected to be Zambians. Also in July, a group
of twelve South African sport hunters was arrested while
trying to export over 400 kg of game meat reportedly taken
on an occupied farm. Despite claims that their permits were
in order, there is no evidence of compliance with any of
Zimbabwe's strict statutory requirements for international


4. Wildlife in Zimbabwe can be classified by its size, its
protected/non-protected status, and its location, all of
which affect the impact of poaching. First, large animals,
such as elephant and buffalo, are more resistant to random
poaching due to their sheer size and strength. A great deal
of Zimbabwe's widespread poaching is opportunistic, and what
is killed depends upon which animals stray into the
thousands of wire snares littering the bush. Large animals
which can break out of such snares might still die if snare
wounds become infected, but many survive with few ill
effects. Second, some animals, such as rhinos, cheetahs,
painted hunting dogs, and pangolins, are protected (to some
degree) by the GOZ; other animals, such as antelope,
giraffes, lions, and leopards, are not. Much of the non-
protected wildlife, particularly "plains animals" such as
impala, eland, kudu, sable, wildebeest, and zebra, are
widely hunted for food, while others are highly valued as
trophies. Some of the protected wildlife is hunted
opportunistically, while others -- such as rhinos -- offer
poachers commercial benefit, but require deliberate and well-
equipped pursuit. Finally, some wild animals inhabit state-
owned parks or privately-owned conservancies, while many
others previously lived on privately-owned commercial farms.
Even now, some animals in parks and conservancies have
escaped wholesale slaughter, while wildlife which inhabited
regions formerly dominated by commercial farms has been
almost completely hunted out.


5. The size of an animal has a direct impact on its
susceptibility to the opportunistic poaching taking place in
many wildlife areas. Although neither elephant nor buffalo
are specifically protected under Zimbabwean law, both
require deliberate and well-armed pursuit; needless to say,
snaring has a limited effect such animals. (Rhinos are
considered separately, below.) In Save Conservancy, for
instance, while carcasses of 715 poached impala have been
recovered by game scouts, only 6 poached elephant and 3
poached buffalo have been identified. Some large animals
simply are not hindered by snares set low enough for the
small plains game; other large animals become entangled, but
manage to break out of the snare. Sometimes such snare
wounds fester and finally kill the animal; in some
instances, elephants have been found with severed trunks.
In other cases the snares are shaken off and the animals
recover with few side effects. Pursuit with dogs,
similarly, is a tactic suitable for smaller animals, but
dangerous for larger, stronger and more aggressive animals.

6. Elephant is one of the few species which has actually
increased in number, even in the chaotic and lawless
situation prevalent in much of Zimbabwe's rural lands.
Conservationists estimate that although the Zimbabwe has a
carrying capacity for about 45,000 elephants, the current
population is more than double that number. The most recent
survey, conducted in 2001, indicated herds of around 89,000.
Using a growth rate 3-4%, Dr. Cumming, previously the Chief
Research Officer and Deputy Director of the National Parks,
estimates that the herds now comprise more than 100,000
animals. The largest factor underlying this phenomenal
growth, in addition to the elephant's relative
imperviousness to casual poaching, is the international
Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species
(CITES) ban on the ivory trade. Under that ban, countries
such as the U.S. prohibit the importation of ivory and other
elephant products. Despite the ban, however, hunters (even
American hunters) are still allowed to kill trophy
elephants, and the current rate for trophy bulls is held at
about .5% of the population -- which maintains both the
population as well as the trophy quality.


7. Black rhinos, one of the most endangered species
worldwide and one of the few species to have officially
protected status in Zimbabwe, have also been somewhat spared
from the widespread devastation. Under Zimbabwean law,
wildlife belongs to no individual, but a property owner or
occupier can use whatever wildlife that can be captured or
"possessed" on his property. Rhinos, however, officially
belong to the GOZ. There have been a number of successful
black rhino translocations, but even where the animals have
been placed on private land, the private landowner is merely
a custodian and not an owner. When Zimbabwe achieved
independence in 1980, it was home to approximately 2,000
black rhino, with a concentration of about 1,400 -- the
largest population in the world -- in the Zambezi valley.
Widespread commercial poaching (defined as poaching in which
the horn is removed for sale) decimated the black rhino
population in the late 1980's throughout Zimbabwe, and the
number declined to about 370. The GOZ established four
Intensive Protection Zones (IPZs) in state land areas, to
concentrate available government anti-poaching resources on
the few relatively high-density rhino populations that
survived the waves of poaching. These four IPZs are
Sinamatella (in Hwange National Park), Matusadona (on the
southern shore of Lake Kariba), Matobo (near Bulawayo) and
Chipinge (on the eastern side of Zimbabwe). Due to the
intensive conservation measures undertaken, Zimbabwe's
population increased to about 520 black rhinos by 2000.

8. Prior to the land invasions, almost 75% of Zimbabwe's
black rhinos inhabited commercial farms and conservancies,
with approximately 200 in the Lowveld conservancies of Save
Valley and Bubiana. According to conservation experts with
the World Wide Fund for Nature, "Since early 2000, the rhino
custodianship scheme has been greatly undermined because of
large-scale invasions by subsistence farmers into areas of
commercial ranching land, throughout Zimbabwe. Peasant
subsistence farming and rhino conservation are mutually
exclusive activities. Hence the invasions into at least a
third of the total area of the rhino custodianship areas in
southern Zimbabwe have displaced significant numbers of
rhinos out of their home ranges and thereby stimulated
fighting between the animals, leading to many injuries and
the deaths of at least two black rhinos. Habitats are being
cleared for patchy settlement and extensive bush fires that
have arisen in this process have swept through
conservancies, killing at least one black rhino calf. "

9. Despite the increased pressure on the habitat of rhinos
and the competition between animals and settlers, there have
only been a handful of documented commercial rhino poaching
incidents since 2000. Four incidents were confirmed on the
Bubiana Conservancy, eight incidents were confirmed in
Hwange National Park, and one incident was confirmed in
Matusadona National Park. Several other incidents have been
alleged but not confirmed. Many factors contribute to the
increase in rhino poaching, despite an international
moratorium on the sale of rhino horns. Conservationists
implemented a massive de-horning campaign in the mid-1990s,
but most animals' horns have since grown back, making them
once again attractive targets. The lack of resources to
support game scouts and anti-poaching units has decreased
their effectiveness; the increasing "war-lord" mentality of
many rural areas, where a powerful local man can take what
he wants, has also been noted. Additionally, heavily armed
"military" personnel were implicated in several of the
poaching incidents around the Sinamatella camp in Hwange.

10. The total black rhino loss due to land invasions and
associated snaring within Save Valley and Bubiana
Conservancies is probably 15-20 animals. Losses in other
areas, such as Gourlays, Hwange and Matusadona, could be as
high. Recent press statements have suggested that some 50
rhinos, black and white, have been poached during the land
invasions. The known losses due to poaching (as of early
April, 2003) are less than this figure and do not include
any white rhinos, but there will definitely be some rhino
snaring cases that have not yet been detected or reported.


11. NATIONAL PARKS. Zimbabwe has approximately 49,000
square kilometers (km2) of state-owned "protected areas."
Under Zimbabwe's framework, these protected areas are
delineated as follows: national parks, safari areas (or
parks which allow hunting), recreational parks, sanctuaries,
botanical gardens, botanical reserves, and forestry lands.
Protected areas in Zimbabwe currently break down into
several major clusters, in which a national park is
surrounded by safari areas, recreational parks, and forest
lands. The most significant of these are: the northwestern
Matabeleland cluster (Hwange/Kazuma/Zambezi National Parks,
surrounded by the Matetsi and Deka Safari Areas); the
southeastern Gona-Re-Zhou National Park (now part of the
Transfrontier Park between Zimbabwe, South Africa, and
Mozambique, along with several neighboring private
conservancies); and the northeastern Zambezi Valley cluster
(Matusadona and Mana Pools National Parks, surrounded by
Charara, Sibilobilo, Hurungwe, Sapi, Chewore, Dande, and
Doma Safari Areas).

12. Although parks have traditionally offered some
protection from poaching to resident animals, that
protection has evaporated under the current economic and
political crisis. Dr. David Cumming notes that the
international standard for effective park management runs at
about US $200-250 per km2. The extreme range is represented
by white rhino conservancies in the KwaZuluNatal province of
South Africa, some of which reportedly spend about US $6,000
per km2. By comparison, he reports, the current Zimbabwe
budget allocates about US $10 per km2. Combined with the
current political and economic meltdown, this lack of funds
translates directly into less protection for animals: fewer
game scouts, fewer anti-poaching units, fewer vehicles, less
fuel, minimal interest in pursuing poachers, and minimal
sentences for those actually convicted.

13. Dr. Cumming cites, for example, the situation at the
Sengwa research center, located in the Charisa Safari Area.
Dr. Cumming lived at this location for almost twelve years,
and has taken groups of graduate students to the research
center for fieldwork for many years. The research center is
surrounded by Chizarira National Park, Chete Safari Area,
and communal farmlands. While the area has for many years
enjoyed an abundance of wildlife, Dr. Cumming reports that
it is almost completely decimated as of 2003. When asked
whether wildlife could have moved elsewhere, he states that
the lack of animals is certainly due to poaching. He notes
that most Zimbabwean animals are prevented from large-scale
migratory movements, such as those observed in Tanzania and
parts of Kenya, by the geographical differences between the
two regions. He also notes that Zimbabwean wildlife
movement is limited by animals' territorial attachments to
home ranges, dependence upon limited water sources, and
circumscription by surrounding hunting and farming areas.
Given that there is no place for the animals to have gone,
coupled with the hundreds of snares recovered in the area,
he concludes that they have been hunted to annihilation.

commencement of the Land Resettlement Program, there were at
least five officially-recognized, privately-owned
conservancies (the multiple-property developments at Save
Valley Conservancy, Bubiana Conservancy, Chiredzi River
Conservancy, and the Bubi River Conservancy, and the single-
property resort of Malilangwe Conservancy). The GOZ has
sometimes refused to recognize the legitimacy of other
conservancies, claiming that singly-owned conservancies such
as Gourlays Ranch or Amcit-owned Twin Springs Wildlife
conservancy did not meet the "official" definition of a
conservancy. In reality, both Gourlays Ranch and Twin
Springs occupy coveted property, while many of the
"recognized" conservancies occupy marginal land in the
drought-prone lowveld. (Note: In fact, when questioned
about the status of single-property conservancies, GOZ
officials usually launch into a history lesson and defense
of the entire land resettlement program, claiming that the
tendency of private landowners to go into wildlife
operations in the 1990s actually threatened Zimbabwe's food
security, necessitating the land-grab and redistribution
exercise. The fact that food security was not at risk until
after the land resettlement program devastated agricultural
production is apparently moot. End note.)

15. Information provided by conservationists indicates that
several of the privately-owned conservancies have been
poached almost to extinction, while several others seem to
be maintaining some of their wildlife. Gourlays Ranch and
Twin Springs Conservancy have been heavily poached, while
Gourlays has been occupied and both have been targeted for
acquisition under the Land Resettlement Program. Chiredzi
River Conservancy and the Bubi River conservancy, although
not formally designated for acquisition, have been partially
settled and almost completely poached of plains animals.
Bubiana Conservancy reports that it has also been partially
settled and heavily poached in the northern section,
although conservation groups state that most of the rhino
population has been pushed into the southern section. The
pressure of this displacement on Bubiana's male rhinos --
which are territorial and solitary -- has led to fighting,
injury, and several documented deaths, while there are
several reports of commercial rhino poaching on the

16. Both Malilangwe and the Save Conservancy have been
accorded different treatment, and incurred different
damages. Malilangwe, a 480-km2 conservancy which is singly-
owned by a trust (in which an Amcit is heavily involved), is
a very high-profile retreat which previously boasted an
international jet-set clientele, and that factor may account
for the difference in treatment from that accorded Gourlays
Ranch and Twin Springs Conservancy. The manager of
Malilangwe reports that while poaching has been an issue in
outlying border areas, there have been no egregious
incidents recently and there is currently no occupation or
settlement. However, in a widely-publicized incident in
January 2003, provincial governor Josiah Hungwe sent a
letter to Malilangwe's Board of Directors demanding that two
Zanu-PF connected Zimbabwean businessmen be co-opted into
its Board of Directors. The management at Malilangwe
reportedly forwarded this demand to the Board of Trustees
who have not taken any further action, although they
perceive this as an attempt to strong-arm money and gain
influence within the not-for-profit organization.

17. Save Conservancy is a 321,355 hectare project which is
jointly owned by twenty-three landowners (including an
Amcit) who have dedicated their properties to wildlife
production and management. Each property owner retains
separate ownership, and each is allocated separate hunting
quotas, although all internal fences have been removed in
order to facilitate the free movement of animals between the
properties. Several of the constituent farms have been
heavily invaded by settlers, and several have received
either preliminary or final notices of GOZ acquisition under
the Land Resettlement Program. War veterans and other
occupiers have declared at least five of the occupied
properties along the outside borders "no-go" areas, and
conservancy managers and game scouts cannot even estimate
the losses on those properties. The entire western game
fence -- in excess of 80 km of fence, comprising 1280 km of
wire -- has been cut down and transformed into wire snares,
which now permeate parts of the conservancy. Conservancy
managers have documented the impact of occupation through
overflight game counts and settler/hut/domestic animal
counts, and have confirmed the inverse relationship between
settler presence and wildlife presence, with almost no
wildlife visible on the "no-go" farms. Since August 2001,
Save monitors have documented several thousand animals
poached, over twenty thousand snares recovered, hundreds of
poachers' dogs shot, and over a thousand poachers arrested -
- without even taking into account the most heavily
"settled" farms. Characteristically, the largest animals --
elephant, buffalo, and rhino -- have been the least
affected, while the "meat" animals -- impala, kudu, eland,
warthog, wildebeest, zebra, and other small animals -- have
been the most heavily poached.

18. It is interesting to note that the GOZ has consistently
promised the publication of a "Wildlife-Based Plan for Land
Resettlement," supposedly addressing the claims and needs of
private conservancies, since the land invasions were first
initiated by the government in 2000. To date, no formal
statement has been forthcoming, and private conservancies
continue to struggle against the tide of occupation, extra-
legal land grabs, and continued poaching.


19. Conservationists note that natural resources are a
safety net in hard times; it seems that the current hard
times may have destroyed the resiliency of that net, at
least from the wildlife perspective. The bitter struggle
between new land claimants and title-deed holders has left
many animal populations completely unprotected and subject
to random depredation. While some specific segments of
Zimbabwe's wildlife environment have been spared
devastation, the environment as a whole has suffered damage
which could take generations to repair. It will be little
consolation to a future GOZ to possess 500 black rhino, or
100,000 elephants, if the ecology is so damaged that the
land cannot sustain them. Tourism is one of the engines
which could pull Zimbabwe out of an economic morass -- but
only if Zimbabwe retains attractions and infrastructure
sufficient to catch the attention of tourists. Continued
destruction of wildlife resources could cause severe delays
in the eventual recovery of the tourism sector.


© Scoop Media

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