Elephant slaughter at Hwange
Posted by CM on March 17, 2008
People in the Western world can often be much more sentimental about wildlife than those in poor countries. Having caused mass extinctions of many species in their countries in the course of their model of development, they mostly live in relative isolation from the wildlife that is left. To some of them, Africa is the last romantic “jungle,” teeming with cute and cuddly, exotic wildlife.
But to communities who live in close proximity with herds of elephants, there is nothing particularly cute and cuddly about them. On the contrary, they are sometimes feared and resented for destroying crops and homesteads.
Yet the elephant is a majestic, awe-inspiring animal. Controlled culling is sometimes considered necessary but remains controversial partly because of the mythic status of the elephant in human imagination.
The Elephant Killing Fields of Zimbabwe is a shocking, alarming report if true. On the environmental website Baraza, a December 2007 visitor to Hwange National Park claims to have seen evidence of the mass slaughter of elephants there.
…we all gasped as before us is a scene from “The Killing Fields”. In this green field of bush with young sprouting Mopani trees were twenty plus elephant carcasses and bones scattered everywhere. Lots of bones. Carcasses with beautiful yellow butterflies sitting on them. Added to the sweet decaying smell was an oily odour. The bones are blackened as if they have been burnt with diesel. Perhaps it is to discourage scavengers or else to hide the evidence. That distinct smell haunted us all for days after. Just how many dead elephants were there in this field? Who did this? The children stayed in the cars looking forlorn with tears falling and only a few of us had the courage to walk through the field. I had mistakenly taken a tail for an infant’s trunk. Where were the babies as there was no evidence of them? What had happened here? Were only the adult elephants taken out and the remainder of the herd fled? Who did this? Who would allow this to happen?
This killing field is no more than a few hundred metres from Kazuma Hunting Lodge. Kazuma Hunting Lodge? But there is not supposed to be any hunting in Kazuma. Well that’s changed. The Lodge was unoccupied as the hunting season is over for the year. In the middle of the lodge is a thatched structure incorporating the reception, lounge and bar with two elephant skulls at the entrance.
Then, Behind the bar, we found the visitors book. The vast majority are Americans boosting of their successes:
The last recorded hunt was in August 2007 with three hunters from Utah, Minneapolis and San Diego.
I feel deeply saddened at the trophy hunters’ brazen bragging and their evident lack of understanding, but it was this entry that turned my sadness to rage:
“169 elephants in 8 days. Nowhere comes close.”
Rob and Barry Styles of Buffalo Range Safaris are frequently mentioned as the professional hunters. The brothers have been linked with Mugabe cronies and it appears that the Zimbabwe Government has sanctioned these activities for financial gain from the American trophy hunters’ fees as they plunder the last remaining game from Zimbabwe’s national parks.
To many this will all seem like a minor worry compared to the human catastrophe Zimbabwe is becoming. But it is symptomatic of the neglect by and the greed of the country’s rulers. There is no maintenance of any of the country’s natural resources, but for the few well connected, there is also no hesitation to rake in hard currency from activities like letting rich, sick “hunters” from abroad to come and vicariously feel brave and macho by shooting animals.
Reviving systems like Zimbabwe’s once much admired and well managed national parks will be even more difficult than political rehabilitation after the mad Mugabe era has run its course.