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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 22:26 GMT 23:26 UK
Poaching threatens Zimbabwe wildlife

Barnaby Phillips
BBC Southern Africa correspondent

There is a war raging in the Zimbabwean bush and the wildlife is losing.
Eighty per cent of the animals have been killed

Poaching of wild animals on the formerly white-owned ranches is out of control.

"We estimate that 80% of the animals that lived on commercial game farms have been killed in the past three years," says one expert.

Hundreds of ranches have been taken over by settlers and so-called war veterans.

In the dry bush country of the Gwayi Valley, anti-poaching patrols are overwhelmed.

Every day they find animals that have stumbled into wire snares and are suffocating to death.

Endangered species

Much of the poaching is at a subsistence level; desperate people looking for something to eat in a country that is running out of food.

But the poachers' snares kill indiscriminately; trapping valuable animals like the sable antelope, which if hunted legally, would earn Zimbabwe many thousands of dollars.
Zimbabwe veterans
Zimbabwe war veterans have taken over hundreds of ranches

In the Gwayi Valley endangered species like the African wild dog have also been killed.

"The animals have no chance now - there are snares everywhere, and the poachers are killing much more than they can possibly eat," one wildlife rancher told me.

He said that his anti-poaching patrols often come across large animals like buffaloes that have simply been left to rot in a snare.

"It is a terrible waste of a precious resource," he said.

Safari camps

I was driven on to what was, until recently, one of Zimbabwe's most successful wildlife ranches - the former owner was forced off the land in July.

"This has been our home for 44 years," he told me, "but if the war vets see me here now they might try and shoot me."

The network of safari camps on the huge estate have been taken over by settlers and war vets; we did not feel it was safe to approach them.

There is a lot more at stake here than animal welfare, or the conservation of endangered species.

The safari and wildlife industry was one of the most successful sectors of the Zimbabwean economy, employing tens of thousands of people.

Over the past two decades ranchers in southern Zimbabwe restocked vast areas of bush with wildlife.

"This is the most profitable way to use this land - you cannot grow crops on this soil," one game farmer told me.


But as Zimbabwe's political and economic problems have worsened, tourism has collapsed and thousands of jobs have been lost.

Buffaloes have not been spared by the poachers
I stayed in one of Zimbabwe's best game lodges, close to its most famous national park - it was a sad, strange experience.

The lodge was almost completely deserted.

The staff put on a brave face; dutifully polishing the windows, tending the garden and cleaning the swimming pool.

But there was no mistaking their sense of despair.

In Zimbabwe's climate of fear, few people want to give their names to foreign journalists but I did meet one man who used to work in the safari industry as a tracker and driver.

"I am very worried about my future, because without a job how can I keep my children at school?" he said, in a low depressed voice.

"Maybe I will try and go to South Africa, it cannot be worse than here".

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