- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

SAVE VALLEY, Zimbabwe — The message fixed to a tree in the game reserve is stark: “Farm No 3. Dealers in Death.”

It was put there by Zimbabwe’s so-called war veterans to intimidate white landowners on the 850,000-acre Save Valley Conservancy near the border with Mozambique.

The war veterans — unleashed by President Robert Mugabe to seize white-owned farms — are not only killing people, they are slaughtering animals on an unprecedented scale.

Already, they have forced out the owners and poached every animal on at least three of the 22 huge ranches that make up the conservancy. Now, they are pouring on to neighboring ranches and repeating the process.

The poaching is indiscriminate, and no animal is spared. The main targets are antelope, wildebeests and zebras, but lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffalos and giraffes have all been killed by the poachers and their snares.

Wildlife experts say that unless urgent action is taken to stop the slaughter, the conservancy’s entire stock of wildlife will be destroyed within three years.

The pattern is being repeated on game reserves across the country with wildlife losses of more than 70 percent reported in many areas. In the neighboring Bubiana conservancy, four of the 10 ranches have been seized and cleared of wildlife. Barberton Lodge has lost more than 400 animals to poachers in the past three years, including 71 zebras, 63 kudu antelope and four giraffes. Fourteen black rhinos, a critically endangered species, have been caught in snares, each requiring extensive surgery to save their lives.

The state-owned national parks have also been targeted by poachers. Four rhinos have been killed in Hwange national park. Nationally, an estimated 100 black rhinos have been slaughtered for their horns — which can fetch up to $90,000 — in the past three years.

One ranch displayed row after row of skeletons — kept for research purposes — that belonged to animals killed by the poachers’ snares.

The privately owned commercial reserves are being hit hardest. Invaders seize the land, which is largely unsuitable for farming. Desperate for food, the veterans lay metal traps to catch animals to eat or to sell to others.

“A couple of years ago, this area was teeming with wildlife. Now you can walk around all day and not see a single animal,” said Mike Clark, chairman of the Commercial Farmers Union in Masvingo province.

A ranch owner, who declined to be identified, said: “They see wildlife as meat on legs. We know there are food shortages, but they are using the land-reform program as an excuse for out-and-out theft, and they won’t leave until there is nothing left.”

The penalty for killing wildlife is usually a fine of 5,000 Zimbabwe dollars (less than $6) or “community service,” which can mean weeding the court’s garden or washing the magistrate’s car.

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