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Cablegate: Zimbabwe at the Epicenter of Rhino Poaching

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHSB #0964/01 3480924
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 140924Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY HARARE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5209
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 2412
RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 3204
RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 3313
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0104
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 1740
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 2574
RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 2943
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI
RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 0001
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 0004
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 0003
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2483
RUZEHAA/CDR USEUCOM INTEL VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000964

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

AF/S FOR B. WALCH
DRL FOR N. WILETT
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR M. GAVIN
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR L. DOBBINS AND E. LOKEN
STATE PASS TO USFWS FOR M. GADD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV PHUM PREL PGOV ASEC ZI VM
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE AT THE EPICENTER OF RHINO POACHING

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SUMMARY
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1. (SBU) Rhino poaching continues unabated in Zimbabwe because of
lax law enforcement and what appears to be a growing Asian demand
for rhino horn. In the last three years, approximately one-quarter
of all Zimbabwe's black rhinos have been killed by poachers. Local
conservationists are increasingly concerned that Zimbabwe's rhinos
are on a path to extinction as government officials fail to take
adequate action to stop the slaughter and bring the rhino killers
and horn traffickers to justice. END SUMMARY.

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Poaching Continues to Increase
------------------------------

2. (U) A study conducted by Zimbabwean scientists was recently
submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and appears on the CITES
webpage. The report, "African and Asian Rhinoceroses - Status,
Conservation and Trade," was carried out by the NGO TRAFFIC and
details rhino conservation efforts in Zimbabwe, the Democratic
Republic of Congo, and Nepal in response to a resolution at the
CITES conference in The Hague in 2007 that asked for a study on
rhino conservation in those three countries ahead of the next CITES
meeting in Doha in March 2010.

3. (U) Since 2005, populations of black African rhinos have been
either stable or improving in every country in Africa except
Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's black rhinos suffered significant poaching
losses in the 1990s that reduced their population to just over 300
animals in 1995. Between 1995 and 2001, some of Zimbabwe's
intensive protection zones demonstrated the highest reproduction
rates seen in the wild, bringing the population to 500-550 black
rhinos between 2001 and 2007. However, since 2007, poaching has
increased dramatically, reducing the population to just over 400
black rhinos at present.

4. (U) The study estimates that around 235 rhinos (both black and
white) were killed in Zimbabwe between 2006 and 2009 -- half of all
rhinos illegally killed in Africa during that time. In recent years
there has been a noticeable trend towards more sophisticated and
violent methods of killing, including AK47 assault rifles,
immobilizing drugs, poison, and cross-bows.

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Rhino Horn as a Cancer Cure in Vietnam?
---------------------------------------

5. (U) A separate CITES report says that part of the problem is a
growing demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, where many believe the
horn may prevent or cure cancer. The report says that cancer
patients, in desperation, are willing to pay increasing sums for
Qpatients, in desperation, are willing to pay increasing sums for
rhino horn cures, further driving up the price and demand for rhino
horn "cures." Rhino conservationists in Zimbabwe believe Chinese
and Vietnamese smugglers move rhino horn through South Africa to
markets in Asia, mostly China and Vietnam.

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Lax Law Enforcement
-------------------

5. (U) According to the TRAFFIC study, the number of illegal rhino
horns entering the market has increased dramatically since 2006.
Researchers have identified a minimum of 1,521 rhino horns that were
destined for illegal trade since 2006, versus 664 horns between 2000
and 2005. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, in particular, there has
been a dramatic decrease in the number of horns "recovered" by law
enforcement. In 2001, nearly 70 percent of all illegally procured
horns were intercepted, but that figure has now dropped to less than
10 percent.

6. (U) A study in April 2009 of poaching incidents in Zimbabwe found
that of 156 recorded rhino intentional killings or injuries, only 18
incidents resulted in arrests. Of the 41 people arrested, only six
were convicted, three of whom were foreign nationals -- a conviction
rate of less than three percent. Others who were arrested were
acquitted, released on bail, or fined.

7. (SBU) The statistics are frustrating in the abstract, but even
more maddening when examining specific cases. For example, on
January 15, 2009 a 30-year-old Bulawayo woman was found in illegal
possession of 38 unmarked processed elephant tusks, 52 unregistered
elephant tusks, and a rhino horn. Conservationists and journalists
familiar with the case told us in disgust that she was fined US$400,
the illicit elephant tusks and rhino horns were returned to her, and
her husband -- who is widely known to be involved in a poaching ring
-- was never investigated and is still a licensed hunter. No one
bothered to investigate how this woman came to be in possession of
such large quantities of illegal ivory.

8. (SBU) A Bulawayo-based journalist shared details of other cases
with us. Notably, a group of five men in their twenties were found
in possession of 17 elephant tusks in February, which disappeared
shortly after being stored at the Hwange police station in
Matabeleland North. The men were fined a total of US$200, and no
one knows what happened to the tusks. Separately, a group of four
men were found in possession of eight tusks in October; they were
fined just US$10 each. Conservationists tell us that none of these
cases was ever thoroughly investigated in order to determine how the
poaching and smuggling rings worked.

9. (SBU) Despite considerable evidence of a growing poaching
problem, Environment Minister Frances Nhema has publicly proclaimed
that things are under control. At an event in June this year, he
downplayed criticism of Zimbabwe's management of its rhinos: "There
are systems in place to ensure that poaching will be dealt with
Qare systems in place to ensure that poaching will be dealt with
accordingly. There is no room for allowing poaching in the country.
We are saying no to poaching." Unfortunately, there is little law
enforcement evidence to support his claims.

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Senior Government Involvement?
------------------------------

8. (SBU) There are persistent rumors that senior government
officials may be involved in poaching and smuggling. Certain names
repeatedly resurface in the rumors, including Minister of
Environment Frances Nhema, the Chief of Conservation at the Parks

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and Wildlife Management Authority Vitalis Chadenga, Minister of
Mines Obert Mpofu, and senior security officials including the head
of the army, Constantine Chiwenga. Given the lax law enforcement
and the numerous cases in which the accused person was granted bail
or absconded, many believe bribes or pressure from senior government
officials is thwarting justice in these cases.

9. (SBU) Despite these persistent allegations, neither
conservationists nor journalists have been able to uncover
definitive links between specific senior officials and those who are
found in possession of illegal ivory or rhino horns. These same
conservationists and journalists, however, have been warned not to
investigate too deeply into the issue, adding more legitimacy to the
concerns that top government officials are involved.

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COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) Rhino poaching continues at an alarming rate even while
the environmental and security-sector elements in government
(largely controlled by ZANU-PF) continue to proclaim that they are,
indeed, fighting the problem. As the March CITES meeting in Doha
draws closer, we expect that Minister Nhema and others will continue
to loudly defend the Zimbabwean record on conservation and blame
inadequate resources (caused by Western-imposed sanctions,
naturally) for any perceived shortcomings. Some in government, like
Minister of Tourism Walter Mzembi, have sought to remind fellow
ministers that environmental protection is key to bringing back
tourists and development. However, even while those discussions
continue, we expect we will continue to hear depressing reports from
the field of rhino poaching. END COMMENT.

RAY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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