'Corrupt' Zimbabwe officials accused of faking elephant tally

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The Independent Online

Senior Zimbabwean officials have inflated the official number of elephants in the country so they can benefit from the ivory trade, a conservationist said yesterday. Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwean Conservation Taskforce said the elephant population had fallen to 60,000 at the most, yet the government put the figure at more than 100,000.

Senior Zimbabwean officials have inflated the official number of elephants in the country so they can benefit from the ivory trade, a conservationist said yesterday. Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwean Conservation Taskforce said the elephant population had fallen to 60,000 at the most, yet the government put the figure at more than 100,000.

Mr Rodrigues said corrupt officials wanted to dupe the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) into allowing Zimbabwe to continue trading in ivory when it meets in Bangkok next month. Some are believed to have stockpiled ivory from animals shot in national parks and private game parks seized from their white owners. "It is all about greed and the ongoing looting of natural resources," Mr Rodrigues said.

The Environment and Tourism Minister, Francis Nhema, said there were more than enough elephants in Zimbabwe, accusing Mr Rodrigues of hatching a conspiracy theory. There is no suggestion Mr Nhema is accused of illegal trading.

Mr Nhema said: "I know that he [Mr Rodrigues] has teamed up with some people from outside this country to campaign for elephants to be classified in Appendix 1.We will fight against that because what use will be the elephants to us if they don't bring money to help the communities? We have more than enough elephants."

He admitted that it was difficult to conduct a conclusive survey of elephants in Zimbabwe because the animals often cross into Botswana and Zambia.

Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia are permitted by Cites to engage in controlled trade in ivory and other elephant products. Conservationists want Zimbabwe to lose the privilege because of indiscriminate shooting of elephants in game parks seized by associates of President Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean Conservation Taskforce is investigating after 40 elephant legs were seen at a property owned by a senior government official. The animals had been stripped of their ivory and hide. Mr Rodrigues said he doubted they had been killed legally.

Mr Rodrigues wants Cites to see past the "inflated figures" and help put an end to the destruction of wildlife in Zimbabwe. "The [government] figures are wrong. This kind of exaggeration is meant to hoodwink Cites into allowing Zimbabwe to cull elephants," he said.

"Zimbabwe should not be allowed to trade in ivory and other elephant products because we don't have enough of the animals. It is corrupt government officials who want to benefit from illegal trade."

Mr Rodrigues said Cites should insist on a comprehensive survey of the elephant population via satellite before allowing Zimbabwe to continue with its ivory trade.

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