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Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Zimbabwe troops 'eat elephants'

Elephant
Zimbabwe has more elephants than its parks can hold

Zimbabwean soldiers are being given elephant meat for their rations, a wildlife campaigner has told the BBC.

Jonny Rodrigues from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said that several soldiers had complained to him that was the only meat they were given.

Zimbabwe is believed to have some 100,000 elephants - more than its parks can sustainably hold and its economy is in freefall.

The defence ministry has not yet commented on the reports.

Mr Rodrigues said that the use of elephant meat began last June but has recently increased.

It is cheaper and easier to use elephant meat
Jonny Rodrigues

The ZimOnline website quoted an unnamed senior army officer in Harare as saying: "Soldiers started eating elephant meat last week."

The officer said the meat was a welcome relief, with the website saying soldiers had previously only been given sadza (maize-meal porridge) to eat.

Mr Rodrigues said that army contracts to supply beef to feed soldiers had been cancelled.

"It is cheaper and easier to use elephant meat," he said.

Zimbabwe's national parks have the capacity for 45,000 elephants and the population is culled to contain numbers.

The economy is collapsing and soldiers have recently gone on the rampage in the capital, Harare, after being unable to withdraw their salaries in cash from banks.

The pay of many civil servants is barely enough to pay for their transport to and from work, so most people survive by trading on the black market or on the money sent by relatives abroad.

The army plays a key role in keeping President Robert Mugabe in power.

It was accused of leading a campaign of violence against the opposition during last year's election run-off but this was denied by defence officials.

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