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Drought Forces Zimbabwe to Sell Its Wild Animals

Facing food and water shortages, the country hopes to save it’s wildlife

(Ross Huggett/Flickr)
smithsonian.com

On Tuesday, readers found a strange advertisement in Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper The Herald asking “members of the public with the capacity to acquire and manage wildlife” to make offers to buy critters from Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.    

An El Nino-fueled drought in southern Africa has killed tens of thousands of cattle, destroyed crops and depleted water reservoirs. More than 37 percent of households in Zimbabwe face food shortages, and in February, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster, Merrit Kennedy reports for NPR.

“Zimbabwe is facing one of its worst droughts ever, even worse than 1992 when thousands of wildlife were decimated,” Jerry Gotora, a conservationist and former chairman of the parks department, tells the Agence France-Presse. “All our national parks are in the driest regions and the biggest question as we experience this drought is ‘who is going to feed the wildlife and who is going to give them water?’”

Earlier this year Zimbabwe's Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri warned that the loss of pastures and water sources was a threat to the country’s wildlife, Nquobani Ndlovu reports for NewsDay. She asked NGOs and corporations to step in and aid Zimbabwe in drilling more wells in wildlife sanctuaries to help the animals cope.

Ndlovu also reports that elephants and other wildlife have died in recent years as water sources have dried up. That has left animals weak and vulnerable to poachers.

That’s why the government has resorted to asking landowners with resources to manage the animals to submit applications to buy them, though they don’t specify prices and exactly what species are on the block. Proceeds from the sale would go to providing food and water for the rest of the animals. 

Parks Authority spokeswoman Caroline Washaya-Moyo could not tell MacDonald Dzirutwe at Reuters whether they would allow the export of the animals, or if they had a target number to sell. But Ndlovu reports that government officials from Togo were in the country last week negotiating to buy some of the animals.

Last year Zimbabwe exported 60 elephants, half of them to a safari park in China, a move that irked conservationists and was deemed illegal by CITES, the international body governing the trade in endangered animals, Dzirutwe reports. Earlier this year, the poorly-funded Zimbabwe Parks Authority announced plans to continue selling animals to China, saying they would begin exporting lions, hyenas and baboons to raise money if necessary.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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