and military elites are seizing protected areas in one of Africa's
last bastions for elephants, putting broad swaths of Zimbabwe at risk
of becoming fronts for ivory poaching, according to a non-profit
research group's report that examines government collusion in
has maintained robust elephant populations compared with other
countries on the continent. But economic penalties imposed by the
United States and Europe have led Zimbabweans with ties to President
Robert Mugabe's ruling party to find new methods of making money. The
report, set for release Monday, says they may be turning to
elephants' highly valued ivory tusks.
embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Free USA, an animal advocacy group, commissioned the report from
Washington-based C4ADS to better understand the role organized crime
and corrupt government officials play in ivory trafficking across
Africa, said Adam Roberts, Born Free USA's chief executive officer.
trafficking long has been viewed as a conservation issue, but it has
exploded into an illicit global economy monopolized by mafia-like
syndicates and enabled by high-level bureaucrats and powerful
report describes a toxic combination of conflict, crime and failures
of governance throughout Africa that threatens to wipe out the
continent's dwindling elephant herds.
the world's largest market for ivory, is compounding the threat, the
companies have won lucrative contracts in Zimbabwe for mining and
construction projects near remote elephant habitats, bringing waves
of workers and new roads that can be exploited by East Asian crime
organizations, the report said.
a global wildlife trade monitoring network, says there are between
47,000 and 93,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. The gap is due to the fact
that full-fledged surveys of the animals have not been carried out
since 2007, said Richard Thomas, the organization's spokesman.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month signalled its worries about
the future of Zimbabwe's herds in a decision blocking the importation
of African elephant trophies taken in Zimbabwe during 2014.
the cyanide poisoning of 300 elephants last year in Zimbabwe's Hwange
National Park, the agency said it has "significant concerns
about the long-term survival of elephants in Zimbabwe."
findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania,
Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near
impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the
ivory to fund violent operations across the continent," said
Born Free USA's Roberts.
leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis
the report said, could become a poaching hot spot with little
has led the country since independence from British rule in 1980. In
his early years in power, he expanded public education and health
services, making Zimbabwe a beacon on the continent.
Zimbabwe's economy went into meltdown in 2000 after Mugabe ordered
the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms, leading to
the collapse of the agriculturally based economy, once the region's
than a decade ago, the U.S. and the European Union began imposing
sanctions against Mugabe and members of his inner circle for human
rights abuses, public corruption, and vote-rigging.
penalties set strict business and travel bans. Mugabe's Zanu PF party
has blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe's economic woes.
the areas in jeopardy is Zimbabwe's Save Valley Conservancy, a
1,000-square-mile collection of unfenced wildlife reserves that is
home to most of the country's elephants and rhinoceroses.
reform policies have allowed politically connected people to receive
hunting permits and land leases in the conservancy, according to
have histories of exploitative business practices, muscling into
firms, stripping them of all value, and moving on, which creates a
high risk of systematic poaching on seized lands," the report
lack of transparency into the inner workings of Mugabe's government
makes it difficult to establish direct links between government
loyalists and their interests in wildlife areas. The report said
ownership is often masked through associates, family members, and
data-mining software developed by Palantir, a technology company in
California, C4ADS named 18 people involved in what the report
describes as the "political/military takeover of Save Valley
include Maj. Gen. Engelbert Rugeje, the inspector general of
Zimbabwe's defence forces. Rugeje is not on the sanctions list
maintained by the U.S. Treasury Department. He did not respond to a
request for comment.
U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe has long been aware of concerns over Rugeje.
2009, he was accused of threatening to shoot a Zimbabwean lawmaker
who had criticized the general for using soldiers to intimidate
voters, according to an embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks
previously was reported to the embassy for orchestrating violence in
parts of Zimbabwe where candidates who ran against Mugabe's Zanu PF
party were elected to parliament.
government official reported to be involved in the distribution of
wildlife areas to Mugabe loyalists disputed the allegations.
I repeat a lie 20 times, does that make it factual?" Francis
Nhema told The Associated Press last week.
leads the ministry tasked by Mugabe with putting in place a program
to take over 51 percent control of remaining foreign and white-owned
businesses and assets. He formerly ran the environment ministry. He
has been on the U.S. sanctions list since 2003.
officials in Harare privately voiced misgivings about Nhema following
a 2010 meeting he had with Charles Ray, then the U.S. ambassador.
denied that high-ranking Zimbabwean officials were involved in
poaching activities and he rejected reports that land within the Save
Valley was being commandeered for personal gain.
is soft-spoken and comes across as reasonable," reads a February
2010 cable, marked confidential. "He is, however, at least
somewhat disingenuous. ... In short, he toes the Zanu PF line."