The state media campaign to make targeted western sanctions the scapegoat for Zimbabwe's problems reached new levels on Tuesday, with the Herald newspaper blaming the measures for the poaching crisis at the Hwange National Park.
At least 81 elephants and an untold number of other animals in Hwange have died after members of a suspected poaching syndicate laced salt licks with cyanide and placed the salt at water sources used by the elephants. Nine people have been arrested.
The ZANU PF mouthpiece newspaper reported Tuesday that the mass elephant deaths "have been attributed to the West's illegal economic sanctions that affected Zimbabwe's once-vibrant wildlife management system."
The newspaper, which has been relentless in its publication of anti-sanctions rhetoric, said that it conducted a week-long investigation, which revealed "that failure by parks rangers to thwart increasing poaching was a manifestation of the fiscal constraints that left the authority severely incapacitated."
The paper makes no mention of the reasons why the targeted, restrictive measures were imposed originally, which are said to be the real cause of the funding issues at the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Johnny Rodrigues, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) told SW Radio Africa that it is tourism that holds the key to problems facing the cash-strapped Authority. He emphasised that the political situation in Zimbabwe has directly affected the amount of tourism in the country.
"We're not getting the tourism and it's a feeble excuse to turn around and say it is the sanctions to blame. It has nothing to do with tourism," Rodrigues said.
A scrutiny meanwhile of the targeted sanctions lists from the US, Canada, the European Union (EU) and Australia all reveal that the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is not listed as an entity facing financial restrictions.
According to European and American officials who have spoken to SW Radio Africa in recent weeks, the targeted measures were a direct result of human rights atrocities and incidents of vote rigging, the same issues that have driven tourists away from Zimbabwe for more than a decade.
US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Bruce Wharton told SW Radio Africa that his country's measures were imposed as a reaction to these issues.
"The measures were originally imposed against people we felt were making decisions which were weakening Zimbabwe, decisions to abrogate the rule of law, decisions to not respect fully the human rights of the people of Zimbabwe, and decisions to weaken democratic institutions," Wharton explained.
He added: "We believed targeted sanctions would bring pressure on these people ... this is a small group of people that we think have the power to strengthen or weaken Zimbabwe. As long as we believe that they are making decisions to weaken Zimbabwe, we will have the measures in place."
He said the measures are not to blame for Zimbabwe's economic woes, saying the country's "sovereign policy decisions" are the real reasons for the fiscal meltdown seen over the last 14 years.
"You can see that in 1997 the government made some sovereign decisions that had a very direct, clear affect on the economy. The infamous crash of Zimbabwe's dollar in 1997 is a good example. Look also at the decision to send military forces to the DRC, which was costing Zimbabwe at least million dollars a day for couple years," Wharton explained.
He continued: "We look at the way the fast track land reform process was conducted and the very clear affect that had on food security on this nation's ability to export and attract investors."
"When I add all of that up, it is pretty clear that the condition of Zimbabwe's economy today is directly related to sovereign policy decisions and not because of targeted sanctions," the Ambassador said.