VICTORIA FALLS, January 18, 2016 – Zimbabwe’s decision to export wild animals to China will kill local tourism and drive communities living near nature reserves deeper into poverty, a leading conservationist has warned.
Johny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Trust (ZCTF) said only a few well connected people would benefit from the trade, which the government claims is meant to finance conservation efforts.
Zimbabwe has in recent years come under fire from conservationists after it sold elephants to China under what was described as inhumane conditions.
Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri recently said the country would export more wild animals such as lions, baboons and hyenas to the Asian country because government was not able to fund conservation activities.
Last July, the government sent 24 young elephants to Chimelong Safari Park near Guangzhou in China, raising the ire of conservationists throughout the world.
However, Rodrigues who is credited for identifying the killer of world famous Cecil the lion near Hwange National Park last year, said the exports would only fuel poaching as communities would feel disempowered.
“The people who are supposed to be benefiting from these species are not and as a result people now rely on illegal hunting,” the veteran conservationist told Radio VOP.
“It does not work and as result these animals are being depleted from their nature.
“As we speak there are plans to export more different species to China and that is stupid because all these animals belong to Zimbabweans, they don’t belong to the ministers or any politician.”
The government has in the past expressed unhappiness over Rodrigues’ conservation work, claiming that his reports on poaching activities were harming the country’s image, but the activist said he would not be silenced.
“I have nothing to hide but I tell the truth, the thing is solutions are there and we know how to solve our problems facing the country but there are certain individuals who are benefiting at the expense of local people,” Rodrigues said.
“As a result (of imbalances) poverty will never be eradicated and right now people are suffering because everything is politically oriented.”
He said exporting wild animals to China would also endanger the local tourism industry while boosting the Asian country’s economy.
“If we export the animals we will be cutting off the nose to spite faces and it is not supposed to work that way,” Rodrigues charged.
“Currently the biggest foreign currency earner for the country is tourism and if we sell those animals where will the tourists come from?
“And by so doing you we unconsciously make other countries steady in their tourism industry”.
The government claims that the country’s elephant population is unsustainable hence the imports.
Hwange National Park reportedly has 53 000 elephants but its carrying capacity is between 20 000 and 30 000.