HARARE, Sept 11 – A group of wildlife ranchers in southeastern Zimbabwe warned Tuesday that land and hunting permit takeovers by politicians from President Robert Mugabe’s party were threatening safari hunting tourism.
Their warning came after authorities granted land and 25-year hunting permits to senior members of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party under the government’s indigenisation programme.
“If this goes ahead, there will be no hunting safaris to be sold,” Willie Pabst, vice-chair of the Save Valley Conservancy consortium, told AFP.
“These are people who want to enrich themselves at the expense of thousands of lives.
Some of these people have publicly declared they are not interested in wildlife conservation. If you want to be in conservation you need to be a conservationist at heart.”
The beneficiaries include high-ranking ZANU-PF members provincial governor Titus Maluleke, lawmakers Ronald Ndava and Ailess Baloyi and former MP Shuvai Mahofa.
Ranchers under the aegis of the Save Valley Conservancy include foreign investors from South Africa, Germany, Italy and the United States who are protected by investment agreements between Harare and their countries.
A German diplomat was quoted in the media warning that the European country could withdraw aid to Zimbabwe if the takeovers go ahead.
The conservancy is home to a variety of wildlife such as lion, buffalo, leopard and the rhino.
The ranchers warned the move could endanger the lives of thousands of wildlife in the nature reserve and threaten the livelihoods of workers from surrounding districts.
“Some of these individuals have invaded properties elsewhere where they have been killing wildlife for meat and poaching is rampant because they don’t allow game guards,” Pabst said.
“A lot of these people are also on the sanctions list. It will be difficult to attract hunters from overseas, who constitute the majority of our customers, to come down here for hunting safaris.
Building a client-base takes years, he added.
Some party members have labelled Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi a “sellout” after he urged the government to cancel the leases and restore order.
The minister on Tuesday told AFP he could not comment.
“We have made representations to the office of the president and now await the determination so I cannot comment on the matter,” he said.