The Zimbabwe Conservations Taskforce (ZCTF) has accused government of conspiring to hide the total number of elephants to be exported to the United Arab Emirates in a deal which government claims is meant to help protect the endangered species.
In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, ZCTF director Johnny Rodrigues said government was being dishonest by claiming only seven elephants from a game reserve in Victoria Falls would be exported, not 34 as claimed by conservationists.
Over 150 conservationists, led by ZCTF, recently challenged the capture of 34 baby elephants, seven lions and 10 sables, which were said to be held at Mtshibi Capture Unit, 7km from Main Camp in Hwange.
The conservationists wrote a letter to chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Group Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum seeking his personal support to stop the exportation of the elephants, lions and other endangered wild animals from Zimbabwe to foreign zoos and entertainment facilities.
“We haven’t received any response from the United Arab Emirates, though the petition has been sent to hundreds of international conservation organisations and we expect a million signatures to stop the exports of the elephants soon,” Rodrigues said.
Online signatures reached more than 22 000 on Friday last week.
“However, there seems to be a conspiracy of some sort by government.
The ministry (of Environment) is trying to cover up that the elephants that are going to be exported are from Victoria Falls and that there are only seven baby elephants. This is not true,” said Rodrigues.
“There is a conspiracy and government is trying to cover up and hide information from the people. But we have witnesses who have seen the elephants being caught in the wild in Hwange.”
The baby elephants are said to be between two-and-a-half and five years old and conservationists believe most will not survive the long trip.
According to Rodrigues, one elephant has died and others have been medically examined and found to be fit for travel though they appeared extremely distressed.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Prince Mupazviriho recently said elephant exportations were legal and government was going through all processes to ensure the elephants were safe.