PRETORIA – President Robert Mugabe was yesterday greeted by protesters carrying banners protesting against the contentious sale of baby elephants from Hwange National Park as his entourage drove into a Pretoria hotel.
The protesters‚ from animal rights organisation Ban Animal Trading‚ stood on both sides of the main entrance to the luxury hotel to ensure Mugabe and Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere got the message.
The large banners screamed: “Elephants in the wild=Tourism. Elephants Sold=Loss of Tourism”.
Mugabe’s government has justified the sale of baby elephants to China and the United Arab Emirates by saying it wants to raise funds to run game reserves.
The organisation’s Smaragda Louw said Mugabe was in essence saying wild animals should pay for themselves‚ and that the sale was simply to raise funds for the country.
“The way they cage and chain them is bad. This is all for the entertainment of humans and serves no other purpose‚” she said.
Louw said for them to live comfortably‚ elephants had to be kept in groups of between six and 12‚ saying China had no zoo large enough to accommodate this number at once.
“This means they will be caged and tamed‚” she said.
The planned sale of elephants has stirred uproar from animal rights organisations around the world following publication of photographs of the animals in holding pens.
US-Canadian actress Pamela Anderson‚ an honorary director of the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals‚ this week reportedly wrote to Kasukuwere calling on him to do everything in his power to assist in efforts to stop such “profiteering at the expense of wildlife”.
Louw said police tried to remove the protesters this morning, but they stood firm because “we know our rights”.
Mugabe and President Jacob Zuma attended the South Africa-Zimbabwe Business Forum at the hotel in the morning to look into untapped trade and investment opportunities between the two.
Members of Parliament have urged the government to find a way of exporting a large number of elephants to avoid having to cull the animals, which they say are threatening communities neighbouring the country’s biggest game park.
Hwange National Park, at 14 651 square km, has about 45 000 elephants and that population is growing by 5% a year.
That equates to three times the number the park in north-western Zimbabwe can sustainably hold, the lawmakers said in a parliamentary report obtained by Bloomberg.
Elephants, which can eat 136kg of food each a day, are destroying vegetation in the park and damaging crops and livelihoods of neighbouring communities, they said.