Editorial: Bringing Zimbabwean wildlife policies to the U.S.A.

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2001.

On February 2, Groundhog Day, groundhogs across North America declared–by remaining fast asleep in hibernation–that winter would continue. In a much hotter climate, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe forced Zimbabwean Supreme Court chief judge Anthony Gubbay to resign, warning Gubbay that his personal safety could no longer be guaranteed.

Gubbay and the other Zimbabwean Supreme Court judges outraged Mugabe by finding in December 2000 that his manipulations of election results were unconstitutional. Also illegal, the court found, are expropriations of habitat from private owners to redistribute among so-called “war veterans”–many of them not nearly old enough to have helped in overthrowing the apartheid regime of the former Rhodesia. This followed a November ruling that the ongoing occupations of private wildlife reserves by the “war veterans” are illegal, and an October ruling that Mugabe lacked the authority to pardon the “war veterans” for crimes linked to the occupations.


“We were deeply shocked and dismayed to learn that the recent amnesty included offenses against animals,” the Zimbabwe National SPCA wrote. “Surely our government cannot condone the brutal beating of dogs, the indiscriminate slashing and mutilation of cattle, ostriches having their legs chopped off, pets thrown onto an open fire, six dogs shot while lying on the lawn in front of their home… We are also deeply concerned about poaching and snaring which is going on in all parts of the country on a massive scale. What does inflicting intense pain and suffering on innocent and defenseless animals have to do with politics?”

Not only animals were victimized. At least three Zimbabweans of African descent who tried to protect animals were severely beaten by the “war veterans”; one was lynched.

Mugabe promised land to his troops during the brief civil war that brought him to power in 1980. The land was to be taken from Zimbabweans of European descent–1% of the population–who hold title to more than half of the arable soil. But land redistribution never occurred on a significant scale. Now, amid economic collapse, the “war veterans” want their spoils, as do their children, raised on the promise of an inheritance never received.

Mugabe was nearly voted out of office last year, in the first semblance of a free election that Zimbabwe ever had. Only the “war veterans” stand between Mugabe and being held accountable for 20 years of self-aggrandizing mismanagement. So, said Mugabe to the judges, “No judicial decision will stand in our way.” Zimbabwean justice minister Patrick Chinamasa added that any further adverse court rulings would “touch off the resuscitation of the armed struggle.” The public contempt-of-court should have surprised no one.

Nominally a socialist, Mugabe initially tolerated no dissent whatever. Former allies rebelled. Some, including a force covertly armed by the then still apartheid government of South Africa, funded bush militias by poaching elephant ivory and rhino horn. Mugabe’s army in 1983 killed about 1,500 supporters of the rival Zimbabwe African People’s Union, but the trouble continued. Mugabe had hoped that the tottering former Soviet empire would back him. When it did not, Mugabe in 1984 proclaimed a shoot-to-kill anti-poaching policy, ostensibly to protect elephants and rhinos. Killing at least 160 alleged poachers during the next several years coincided with the arrival of relative peace.

Mugabe wooed the Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush administrations by turning conservation over almost entirely to the private sector. In practice, that meant hunting lodges situated on glorified game ranches called “conservancies.” The owners echoed the “sustainable use” rhetoric of the World Wildlife Fund, while catering to the well-heeled and influential membership of Safari Club International–the outfit that named George W. Bush “Governor of the Year” in 1999 for his support of canned hunts.

Declared the Groundhog Day 2000 edition of the Financial Gazette, of Harare, “Zimbabwe has been part of an important experiment in private wildlife management that has lessons for the rest of the world.” The Financial Gazette cited a new report from the Washington D.C.-based Center for Private Conservation. Said report authors Kay Muir-Leresche and Robert Nelson, “Although the past gains from this effort are endangered by the current threats of land confiscation and other violence by the Zimbabwean government, this does not detract from their potential interest.”

The CPC is a subsidiary of the Competitive Enterprise Institute–an institution of strong wise-use leanings and perhaps even more links than the Safari Club to key members of the George W. Bush administration. Older material at the CPC web site, <www.cei.org/cpc>, already touted at length the alleged wildlife propagation success of the Save Valley Conservancy Trust et al–which are the very properties most devastated by the so-called war veterans.

Earth Report 2000, issued by CEI more than a year ago, included a chapter of similar rosy rhetoric by Rowan Martin, a Zimbabwe Department of National Parks and Wildlife staff member for more than 25 years. Martin, according to the Earth Report 2000 “contributors”
section, “is perhaps best known for the development of Zimbabwe’s CAMPFIRE program, under which local people have created a land use revolution that genuinely achieves ‘conservation with development.'”
CAMPFIRE is the Communal Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources. It is not really engaged in “private wildlife management” at all–and never was. Generating about $2.5 million a year in program revenue, CAMPFIRE received subsidies of $20.5 million during fiscal years 1997-2000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development, after receiving $8 million from USAid 1989-1996.

CAMPFIRE is in truth U.S.-sponsored welfare for Mugabe regime insiders, who for 13 years were more-or-less paid off with American tax dollars to refrain from disturbing the conservancies where rich U.S. good old boys went headhunting. CAMPFIRE projects now exist or are planned in 37 of the 57 rural districts of Zimbabwe–some of which seem to have more ward heelers than wildlife.

Cautiously explained Godfrey Marawanyika of the Zimbabwe Independent on November 17, 2000, “The government plans to implement CAMPFIRE projects in Shuruguri and Zvimba, but experts have warned that these could fail, as the ecology in the selected areas cannot sustain profitable resource husbandry. Well-placed sources said the CAMPFIRE concept was being abused by members of Parliament,” apparently implicating Mugabe’s sister Sabina, who is Member of Parliament for Zvimba.

Once CAMPFIRE gave Mugabe the pork barrel he thought he needed to keep control, he sought to legitimize his regime by allowing token political opposition after 1991, and allowing the election last year, overly certain that he could not lose. Whether CAMPFIRE ever enlisted much authentic village support is open to question. The Zimbabwe Standard alleged in December 1999 that CAMPFIRE met resistance in Gokwe North. The Gokwe North rural district council cleared “a buffer zone for safari activities,” the Standard reported, by torching the homes, possessions, and food crops of 114 villagers. Four of the children of CAMPFIRE opponent Mafera Chitoto, ages 4 to 13, were reportedly kidnapped and dumped without food or friends at a distant abandoned mine site.

Such kidnappings seem to be a favorite tactic of Mugabe supporters. In mid-January 2001, according to Guardian Newspapers’ Harare correspondent Andrew Meldrum, 13 young opponents of the Mugabe regime told news media that they had been beaten and tortured by police for days before being dumped in Gonarezhou National Park to “campaign to the lions.” The lions, leopards, wild dogs, cheetahs, and other predators of Gonarezhou did not molest them, however. Perhaps the predators had all been poached.

Even before the farm invasions began, a World Wildlife Fund survey found that elephant ivory poaching doubled in the Zambese River region during 1999. A “senior National Parks officer, speaking on condition of anonymity,” told Neely Tucker of the San Jose Mercury News Africa bureau that although official records showed only 88 elephants were poached, “The real number of dead elephants is at least 350, maybe 400 or more.”

Despite the evident lack of control over poaching, the Mugabe regime continues to fight to overturn the global ban on ivory trading imposed in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Selling ivory from “culled” elephants to fund a cushy retirement in exile is a longtime favorite ploy of African dictators, and Zimbabwe reportedly has the biggest ivory stockpile of any nation.

While officials bag ivory, the “war veterans” fashion snares from fence wire to kill anything they can: thousands of impala, hundreds of other antelope species, and dozens of zebras, warthogs, and giraffes. As the habitat is exhausted, cattle are brought to the land–and with the cattle come disease, including anthrax. In mid-January 2001, the Zimbabwean Veterinary Services Department acknowledged that more than 2,000 Zimbabweans including many “war veterans” had contracted anthrax from eating dead and dying cattle.

Hunting for answers

Praising CAMPFIRE and Zimbabwean wildlife management generally, Center for Private Conservation director Michael DeAlessi unwittingly explained the Zimbabwean disaster shortly before the land invasions started in a paragraph at the Competitive Enterprise Institute entitled, “Conservation through Commerce and the Importance of Hunting.”

Wrote DeAlessi, “Photo safaris and other non-consumptive activities can be quite lucrative, but take a great deal of time and investment to set up. Guests expect comfortable accommodations, quality meals and a range of activities. This in turn means a fair number of staff. Hunters, on the other hand, are often more happy with Spartan amenities, and one or two game scouts,” meaning “low overhead and high return.”

Instead of creating jobs and broadly sharing wealth, which would have given many Zimbabweans a vested interest in protecting wildlife and habitat, the conservancies and CAMPFIRE further entrenched the disenfranchisement and bitterness lingering from apartheid–and stoked the feeling of the hungry and uneducated poor that their misery results from Bwana selfishly raising and shooting trophy animals on land that could grow food.

The nimrods of the CPC and Competitive Enterprise Institute are energetically trying to rewrite the collapse of Zimbabwean wildlife management in terms of corrupt socialists unleashing mob violence against the results of investment and hard work. Indeed that happened. But it happened because marketing consumptive lethal use of sentient living beings is as unwise as it is unethical, whether one is selling the services of slaves, prostitutes, or mercenary soldiers, or the remains of sable, kudu, and waterbuck.

“So-called sustainable use is attractive to free marketers who don’t know their wildlife history,” ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in June 1994, more-or-less predicting the Zimbabwean fiasco. “Yet even in the closely regulated climate of the U.S. and Canada, the ‘sustainable use’ theory doesn’t work.”

Contrary to the pretense of hunters, fishers, and trappers that license fees pay the costs of keeping wildlife abundant, the U.S. preserves heavily hunted species chiefly because hunters and poachers are a tiny minority, while every taxpaying citizen contributes to the acquisition, maintenance, and protection of habitat.

In Africa and elsewhere, ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out, “sustainable users” hope to convince the poor that they should not kill wildlife for food, while rich Europeans and Americans kill the same animals for fun–“a new and dangerous idea,” we explained, “to people whose own killing is mostly from need, especially when coupled with the idea that thrill-killing has a higher rationale.

‘Sustainable users’ argue that giving poor Africans and Asians a collective economic stock in wildlife will lead to the development of a collective ethic, whereby poachers will become pariahs. This ignores the repeated failures of collectivism, from the USSR to Africa’s own overgrazed veldts. It also overlooks the poachers’ existing collective ethic (perhaps a higher ethic in that it excludes mere thrill-killing). They already use the animals they kill for what they see as the common good, the good of their families.

Having no faith in corrupt governments that purport to protect wildlife, but in fact sell animals to the highest bidder, they see no reason why they should not poach animals now, before others do and take the profits. “Finally, Africa in particular already suffers too much from the idea that whoever has the most money and firepower is above morality. The example of the Great White Hunter who receives special privileges because he has money reinforces the notion of the Big Man who is above the law because he commands a well-armed tribe.”

Seven years later, some of the minds who created and still admire the policies which brought the Zimbabwean disaster are now directing U.S. wildlife policy.

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