Zimbabwe is culling thousands of buffalo to "contain" foot-and-mouth disease in a move that has sparked protests and been described as "futile and bizarre".
Conservationists said the order was "stupid" and would kill off what was left of Zimbabwe's tourism sector, which has shrunk to 15 per cent of its former level since political disturbances began in 2000.
Salmon Joubert, a retired executive director of the Kruger National Park, which straddles Zimbabwe's borders with South Africa and Mozambique, said the decision "ranks as one of the most futile and bizarre moves that anyone can imagine".
Many other cloven-hoofed animals, such as impala and kudu, are carriers of foot-and-mouth disease, so Zimbabwe would have to exterminate all of them to achieve its goal.
Officials from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management descended on private game parks last week telling owners that the government of President Robert Mugabe had decided to destroy all buffalo on private land in order to eliminate the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Wilfried Pabst, who owns the Save Valley Conservancy, said officials told his workers that foot-and-mouth disease had cost Zimbabwe its European beef markets. "What is happening in Zimbabwe makes the Chinese Cultural revolution look like a picnic," said Mr Pabst, a German national and a major investor in the country's tourism sector.
The National Parks officials indicated that, alternatively, the buffalo in the private game parks could be seized and taken to the government's national parks to control their movements, Mr Pabst said.
However, fences at most national game parks were destroyed at the height of farm invasions last year, leaving the buffalo there free to mix with cattle in villages. "Any sensible government would replace these fences [rather] than resort to the outrageous move of killing animals," Mr Pabst said.
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