Rhino babies bring hope to Zimbabwe
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2008:
(Actual publication date 11-5-08.)
WEDZA, Zimbabwe Two bottle-fed orphaned Zimbabwean black rhino babies may live happily ever after, if the uneasy power-sharing pact between president Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai brings stability and economic recovery to the nation.
Signed on September 15, 2008, the agreement was jeopardized as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press by Mugabe s determination to retain control over key cabinet posts. Members of Mugabe s ZANU-PF party still roam the countryside, poaching wildlife, intimidating political opponents, looting aid convoys and invading farms, claiming privilege as war veterans whether or not they had anything to do with the revolution that brought Zimbabwe into being and brought Mugabe to power in 1980.
But the two young rhinos, though born with horns and armor, peacefully share a pasture at the Imire Safari Ranch, under around-the-clock armed guard.
Tatenda, 2, a male, and Shanu, 4, a female, survived a November 2007 attack by poachers who shot and dehorned three adult rhinos, one as she was about to give birth, after disarming and tying their guards.
The four poachers, also alleged to have been involved in a number of armed robberies and arrested with several illegal firearms, according to a World Wildlife Fund report, were arrested and reportedly admitted to having killed 18 rhinos in five regions of central Zimbabwe. They were initially denied bail and it was reported that the four had received lengthy jail sentences, WWF said. But in September 2008 WWF was informed by authorities that the poachers were subsequently granted bail, were freed, and immediately absconded.
Added WWF, Although a few poachers from Zambia have been arrested and convicted after cross-border raids into National Parks in northern Zimbabwe, not a single Zimbabwean poacher has been convicted during the current wave of rhino poaching.
Elaborated Lowveld Conservancies conservation manager Raoul du Toit. Since January 2000, when Mugabe encouraged the so-called war veterans to begin seizing property owned by Zimbabweans of European descent, approximately 70 rhinos have been killed in the Lowveld Conservancies. About 20 rhinos were shot in the Lowveld in the first half of 2008, which points to how this problem is escalating, Prior to 2000, du Toit said, for a period of seven years there was no rhino poaching whatsoever.
Including rhinos poached elsewhere, said Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chair Johnny Rodrigues, 27 rhinos have been slaughtered countrywide this year so far, and these are only the ones we know of. We received a report last month of a pregnant rhino that was shot at Chipangali by a ZANU-PF official with a high powered rifle. The poacher allegedly removed the horn and left the carcass behind.
In the first months after the war veterans began invading conservancies, rhino deaths primarily involved rhinos getting caught in wire snares that were set out to catch wildlife for meat consumption, said WWF. Now the poaching has reached commercial levels, WWF warned, with poachers not only killing rhinos in snares but also shooting them for their horns, without taking the meat.
Trying to investigate the rhino horn traffic, London Sunday Times Harare correspondent Jon Swain in July 2008 posed as a middleman seeking to buy a rhino horn for an Arab sheikh.
I was able in just a day of telephone calls in Harare to have a specimen delivered to my room for inspection, Swain wrote.
But that horn proved to be evidence of official corruption, rather than recent poaching. The horn had come from the rhino horn store of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management, which holds thousands of horns, none of which is allowed to be sold, Swain established. The seller had tried to erase the store s identifying stamp to disguise its origins, but I could still faintly make it out on one side.
In any event, assessed Swain, Rhino poaching is only one part of the destruction of Zimbabwe s wildlife. The country had one of the largest elephant populations in the world. That too is plummeting, as thousands are snared by poachers or shot illegally. Happyton Bonyongwe, Zimbabwe s spy chief, is one high-ranking official allegedly involved in the illegal game-hunting business, Swain asserted. Well-informed sources said he received £1,000 from a professional hunter for every elephant shot on a concession bordering a national park. Hundreds were shot.
The average monthly salary for a National Parks employee is 5000 Zimbabwean dollars per month, explained Rodrigues. At today s exchange rate, this is equivalent to less than one U.S. cent. In a desperate attempt to supplement their salaries, the National Parks Authority has offered to give each employee 10 kilograms of game meat per month in addition to their paltry $5,000. It is expected that about 30,000 kilograms of meat per month will be harvested for this purpose. The survival of our wildlife is seriously threatened by the very people who are supposed to be protecting it.
Photographic safari operators in Hwange are extremely concerned about the situation, Rodrigues added. Professional hunters have been seen in Hwange and Victoria Falls National Parks for the past few months, and reports have been made of shots being heard by tourists, hunting vehicles continually sighted at Nyamandlovu Platform and Makwa Pan in Hwange, and carcasses being seen next to tourist roads and water holes.
It is alleged that Headman Sibanda, a Zimbabwean professional hunter whose name has been linked to illegal and unethical hunting, has been issued a quota to shoot 100 elephants in Victoria Falls National Park, Rodrigues continued. It has been reported from Kariba that National Parks have decided to kill 50 elephants, in and around Kariba, as part of the cull.
The release of the Imire rhino massacre suspects and renewed elephant killing came just as Rodrigues had dared to hope that positive change might be imminent if only because one crisis was averted.
Many years ago, Imire was designated by National Parks and the government as a black rhino breeding area, recalled Rodrigues in July 2008. For this reason, it is one of the few places in Zimbabwe that still has wildlife. John and Judy Travers have devoted the best part of their lives to caring for these animals.
On June 29, 2008, however, barely six months after the rhinos were killed, a group of war veterans went to Imire, Rodrigues wrote, and demanded that John Travers shoot three impala for them to eat. When John refused, they stated that they would burn the place down. They were extremely aggressive and John eventually had no option but to shoot the impala. The invaders left with the impala, saying that Imire was at the top of their list and they were going to take it. The next morning, John reported the incident to the police who responded by initiating investigations.
On July 3, Rodrigues continued, a group of about 16 war veterans arrived at Imire and told the Travers to vacate the property. They were threatened with their lives if they didn t comply. It was alleged that an army general was leading the thugs.
Rodrigues sought intervention from the National Parks department in Harare.
National Parks mobilized quickly, together with the police, the army, and the Central Intelligence Organization, Rodrigues reported. John Travers received phone calls from minister of environment and natural resources Francis Nhema, the minister of defence Sidney Sekeramai, and the governor of Mashonaland East, assuring him that Imire will be protected.
At Imire, meanwhile, Tatenda, Shanu, and two other young rhinos were alive through the collaboration of the Travers family, Rodrigues, and an global network of animal advocates, linked by e-mail, who have donated milk powder, mineral cubes, and other necessities, and found ways of getting them to Imire despite looters roadblocks.
John and Judy Travers in October 2008 brought Tatenda and Shanu together for the first time, hoping that when they mature they will mate.
It was decided that it would be safer to introduce them with a fence separating them, wrote Johnny Rodrigues. Shanu approached, and Tatenda was very surprised. He had never seen another rhino. He went up to Shanu and the rhinos kissed each other through the fence. It was love at first sight.