Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, will celebrate his 91st birthday this week, marking the occasion by eating hordes of endangered wildlife. On the menu: two buffaloes, two elephants, one lion, two sables, and five impalas. The meal, which will be served to a party of 20,000 people, is worth approximately $120,000. The meat was donated to Mugabe by landowner Tendai Muasa, but the local community claims that Muasa neither consulted them nor compensated them for the animals.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe ranks 156th in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index. Forty-one percent of the people live in poverty and it is expected that each Zimbabwean born will not reach age 60.
In the 27 years since Mugabe has come into power, Zimbabwe has become one of the most corrupt countries in the world, wracked with poverty, widespread hunger, disease, and human rights violations.
Under Mugabe's control, Zimbabwe also lacks transparency or ethical management of its wildlife and natural resources, exploiting them viciously for profit. Recently, Zimbabwe captured more than 60 wild elephants to ship to overseas zoos (potentially in China and the United Arab Emirates). The Zimbabwe government claims that this move isn't for profit, but is aimed at reducing the "overpopulation" of elephants. However, Zimbabwe is believed to be home to around 80,000 elephants - 10,000 fewer than counted in a 2001 survey. But, the country is historically secretive about the size of its elephant population.
Despite the country's autocratic ruler and his corrupt regime, Safari Club International (SCI) actively supports and promotes trophy hunting in Zimbabwe. SCI claims that trophy hunting supports conservation of endangered and imperiled species like rhinos, elephants, and lions. However, SCI ignores the fact that Zimbabwean trophy hunting also supports a ruthless and corrupt dictator.
In 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) banned elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe for one year due to inadequate management, and SCI has been the most vocal opponent of this move. According to SCI, trophy hunting in Zimbabwe is worth roughly $40 million US dollars per year, of which elephants, currently facing severe pressure from poaching and the illegal ivory trade, account for $12 million. These figures are likely drastically overstated.
We must ask the crucial questions: Where does that money go? How much of it is funneled to a dictator who has consistently shown that he has no regard for Zimbabwean citizens or wildlife?
We should, of course, closely examine the myth that trophy hunting supports conservation of endangered species. But, we must follow the money one step further and acknowledge that, through trophy hunting, U.S. dollars inevitably support a corrupt regime that profits from the widespread exploitation of its people and its animals.
Trophy hunting. Live elephant sales. Ivory stockpile commercialization. Corruption. Wildlife declines. Land grabs. Instability. Poverty. Mr. Mugabe certainly does not have a legacy of which he should be proud.
I wonder what he's wishing for this birthday ...
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,