Robert MugabeWith famine, starvation, and political violence now commonplace, the reign of Zimbabwe strongman Robert Mugabe has certainly been tragic for his country’s citizens. For Zimbabwe’s endangered wildlife, things are quite dire as well.

The general lawlessness that plagues the African nation, combined with Mugabe’s destructive policies, have resulted in the rapid destruction of large numbers of wildlife. According to the Irish Times, “Statistics provided by conservationists from the southern African country reveal that last year alone the country lost about 300 rhinos, 20,000 zebras and over 6,000 elephants to poachers operating in national parks, conservancies and game farms … Conservative estimates by conservationists put the total loss of wildlife to poaching over the past 10 years at more than half a million animals.”

Mugabe himself has encouraged the killing of precious wildlife. The Humane Society of the United States reports that Mugabe “ordered rangers at Zimbabwe’s National Parks to cooperate with rural authorities in the wholesale killing of wild animals, including elephants.” At least ten elephants were slaughtered and cooked as part of celebrations commemorating the 25th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence. Four of the elephants were killed by park rangers.

Are these animals being killed to feed starving Zimbabweans? Somewhat, though much of the meat appears to go to those favored by Mugabe, whose agricultural polices are largely responsible for the famine in the first place.

The slaughter of wildlife stems primarily from the international black market in animal parts.  There is a thriving demand in China and Vietnam for animal products used in traditional medicines, and the price of ivory has climbed. According to former World Wildlife Fund representative Raul du Toit, “most of the big game poaching is carried out by well-organised gangs with direct links abroad to the illegal trading networks…” Greed, not hunger, is the driving force behind the decimation of Zimbabwe’s wildlife.

Now it seems as if Mugabe has been engaged in some sort of bizarre variation of “Noah’s Ark.” The BBC recently reported that the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force has reason to believe “that wild animals — such as baby elephants, giraffes, rhinos and zebras — were being secretly caught in pairs in the past two months in the Hwange National Park, western Zimbabwe.” Two 18-month elephants caught in the wild are expected to be sent to North Korea soon. According to the Daily Telegraph, “Elephant experts do not think the young animals will survive the trip separated from their mothers, and if they do survive they are likely to die in substandard North Korean zoos.”

The animals are a gift to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, an ally of Mugabe and another leader with a penchant for starving his own people. For what it’s worth, Zimbabwe parks officials deny that Mugabe had anything to do with sending the animals to North Korea. Personally, I take anything officials in a corrupt, authoritarian state say with a big grain of salt.

In recent years, Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe has been marked by cruelty and indifference to the plight of both Zimbabwe’s people and its wildlife. Sadly, as long as he remains in power, the chances of any improvement for either remains slim.

Photo Credit: Public Domain