Zimbabwe pushes on with elephant exports

07 March 2015 - 20:53 By Sapa

Zimbabwe's environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere says authorities will push on with a controversial programme to export elephants because the money raised helps stop state rangers poaching, parliamentary records showed Saturday.

"We have got to sustain and look after the men and women who have an important responsibility of protecting our wildlife against a background of sanctions," Kasukuwere said in a transcript of proceedings from the Senate this week.

"If we deprive the men and women who protect these animals of the necessary salaries, they are likely to turn into dangers, in other words poaching, which will... be much more difficult to manage."

Kasukuwere reportedly made the comments on Thursday.

Zimbabwean authorities began rounding up baby elephants for export in Hwange National Park late last year in an operation that sparked international outrage.

President Robert Mugabe's government says the move is justified because that state national parks and wildlife authority badly needs the money.

The government also claims that Zimbabwe cannot support its estimated 83,000 elephants.

Animal lovers say it is cruel to separate elephant calves from their families.

The independent Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force says that China alone has ordered between 80 and 100 elephants. Other countries have also expressed an interest in buying elephants and other game.

According to the official Hansard parliamentary report, the minister also suggested that Zimbabwe might be willing to exchange or sell endangered black rhinos to other African countries "if we have excess numbers in this country".

His comments came as conservationists confirmed a fifth black rhino was killed by poachers in south-eastern Zimbabwe last month.

Two female black rhinos and two calves have already been killed in two separate attacks.

A bull rhino is now known to have died in an attack in the Save Valley Conservancy on February 22. He was shot along with a female and a calf but managed to run about 300 metres before succumbing to his injuries.

He was not found by the poachers, conservationists told Sapa.

There are only around 450 black rhinos left in Zimbabwe.