By Aislinn Laing, Peta Thornycroft
A total of 300 animals are understood to have been transported over 400 miles from a privately-run conservancy in southeastern Zimbabwe to the Victoria Falls reserve to give the appearance of a bountiful wildlife population which might prove attractive to safari-loving holidaymakers.
But wildlife experts say that in reality, the country’s safari animal numbers have declined sharply amid a lack of funding for conservation from central government and rampant poaching.
The costly operation took place despite “Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority” struggling to pay its own staff wages for the past three months, or for diesel to power water pumps for animals in its parks, critics claim.
The choice of Zimbabwe to act as joint host of the annual meeting of the UN’s tourism body along with Zambia — on the other side of Victoria Falls — has already proved controversial.
It comes hot on the heels of a fresh election victory for Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ageing and autocratic president, and his party Zanu PF.
Countries including Britain and the US have said the poll was “not credible” amid widespread vote-rigging accusations.
The UN said however that the results would be “respected by the assembly” and Taleb Rifai, the UNWTO’s secretary-general, praised the “the civilised and smooth” manner in which the poll was conducted.
At the opening of the summit, Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, said it represented a “global endorsement” of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination. More....