HARARE, Zimbabwe – Tens of thousands of wild animals face annihilation in a wave of land takeovers in southeastern Zimbabwe by politicians of President Robert Mugabe's party, a consortium of wildlife ranchers charged Sunday.
The Save Valley Conservancy said thousands of people's livelihoods also are threatened in the 1,000 square mile (2,600 square kilometer) nature preserve and surrounding districts after hunting permits and land leases were granted to 25 leaders of the ZANU-PF party under a black empowerment program.
In Sunday newspaper advertisements, the consortium said "greedy individuals" — including a provincial governor and a Cabinet minister — wrongly claimed it was white dominated. The conservancy said Mugabe had used color as "a racial tool" to collapse world-renowned conservation efforts for short-term gain.
"When humans behave like animals, we destroy not only each other but generations to come," the group said.
The advertisements, the most strongly worded statements in the dispute so far, said politicians "want to destroy agreements and policies that have made Save the world leader in conservation management."
Save, pronounced Sa-veh in the local Ndebele language, is a habitat for elephant, zebra, giraffe, as well as the nation's second largest surviving population of endangered black rhinoceros. The area also supports an array of African antelope and most species of birds and small animals.
"We as humans can help stop using color as a racial tool to destroy the very people who are working for our common good," said the advertisements, under the heading: Animals don't see in color.
Several Western investors, the World Wildlife Fund and conservation groups in Europe and the United States have funded breeding and animal research programs in Save.
European Union officials in Zimbabwe have warned the Save land takeovers put at risk bilateral agreements on conservation between Zimbabwe and European countries ahead of the U.N. World Tourism Organization summit scheduled in the northwestern Zimbabwean resort of Victoria Falls next year.
The state Herald newspaper, controlled by Mugabe loyalists, reported Saturday that the new conservancy members linked to Mugabe's party fired the consortium's longtime chairman Basil Nyabdaza, an agricultural estates executive, and his deputy, rancher Willy Pabst.
A Mugabe party lawmaker was chosen to replace Nyabadza, the paper reported.
It also reported that Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, seen as a moderate in Mugabe's party, said he was opposed to new conservancy members from the ZANU-PF party hierarchy in the southern Masvingo province being "imposed" on the existing grouping of conservation enterprises and small-scale ranch operators.
Mzembi said many of those party officials had already benefited from black empowerment programs since the often violent seizures of thousands of commercial farms began in 2000, The Herald reported.