Endangered animals in Zimbabwe are facing a serious threat from out of control hunting systems, with hunting licences being handed over to ZANU PF loyalists and other party members.
The government this week issued hunting permits to 25 indigenous 'farmers' allocating them lots at the wildlife-rich Save Valley Conservancy in the Lowveld. National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority director general Vitalis Chadenga said more permits would be issued next week. Chadenga said the black farmers who were issued with hunting permits were allocated 25-year land leases in conservancies throughout Masvingo province.
Included in the list of beneficiaries are top ZANU PF officials and loyalists, such as Masvingo Governor Titus Maluleke, former Gutu South legislator Shuvai Mahofa and Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Stan Mudenge.
Mudenge and others were earlier this year implicated in a damning report by a parliamentary committee, which slammed the inclusion of conservancy land in the land grab campaign. The report, compiled by MPs and other government officials, warned that this has led to the destruction of important conservation areas, including parts of Save Valley.
The report singled out top ZANU PF and military officials as being responsible for this destruction, stating that Zimbabwe's conservancies were supposed to be restricted to indigenous 'investors' with demonstrable "interest and experience in wildlife conservation (as well as the) capacity for business development and ability to contribute to the asset base."
The parliamentary report said: "The allocation of indigenous beneficiaries that include General Engelbert Rugeje, Hon. Sithole, Hon. Senator Hungwe, Mr. Ndava, Hon. Minister S. Mudenge, Hon. Governor T. Maluleke, Mr. Cladman Chibemene, Rtd. Lt. Col. D. Moyo, Mrs Mahofa and Mr. A. Baloyi, according to the list submitted to the committee, was not based on business principles."
These parliamentary warnings have not stopped the likes of Mudenge becoming the new beneficiaries of hunting licences, raising concerns about the impact this could have on Zimbabwe's wildlife. The Save Valley Conservancy is home to a number of protected species, including the critically endangered black rhino.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told SW Radio Africa on Friday that the hunting licences are being handed out with no commitment to controlling the hunting practices. He said that financial gain is likely to be prioritised over animal welfare.
"These guys are going to kill every single animal if controls not are used. But who is going to enforce the controls?" Rodrigues said.
He added: "This is political interfering in the smooth running of organisations like these conservancies. These people are only given these hunting quotas as appeasement by ZANU PF."
With elections expected soon, and with most agricultural land already used up in previous vote-securing ZANU PF campaigns, other land is now under threat. This includes the numerous conservancies across the country which have already been targeted by land invaders.
Rodrigues said that the closer the country is to elections, the more "funny things" keep happening. He said that mining licences are also being handed out without any controls, despite the serous threats the operations have to the environment.
"There is no order, there is no control. This is just about taking as much as they can, and getting rich quick while they can," Rodrigues said.