Zimbabwe university animal unit on cruelty charges

An independent animal welfare group said Wednesday it is filing cruelty charges against the veterinary teaching department at Zimbabwe's main university after three emaciated, ailing and distressed horses were killed using an ax and a knife.

The Veterinarians for Animal Welfare organization said the heavily indebted University of Zimbabwe lacked expertise, equipment and drugs to put down the animals humanely. The horses were taken to a zoo outside Harare last month where their carcasses were fed to lions.

It said a stun gun failed to knock out the horses and they were struck on the head with the blunt edge of a heavy farm ax. They were not dead — their eyelids were still fluttering — when their throats were cut, the group said. Cruelty charges carry the penalty of a fine.

Six horses were first brought to the university facility from a bankrupt farm south of the capital, the veterinarians said in statement. Three were taken away by the national police horseback unit but officers said they could not afford to look after all six.

The three surviving horses are well groomed and cared for and recently were used to give joy rides to children at the mounted police exhibits at the Harare agricultural exposition in the last week of August, the animal rights group said.

The veterinarians group said Wednesday the three horses at the university suffered because the animal department could not supply enough clean bedding, hay, food and water for the horses. Their hooves were rotting in dirty stables.

"All body bones were prominent," the group said.

It said it offered to "euthanase" the animals but authorities accused its inspectors of interfering at the institution where President Robert Mugabe is chancellor, or the titular head of all academic studies, though he is not in charge of running of the campus of more than 8,000 students.

An autopsy of one of the horse's skulls showed the stun gun had been fired nearer the eyes and nose than at the upper brain area where it would have been effective.

The weakened stallion then "staggered several meters (yards) before crashing into the side of a trailer." After five more minutes, he was hit on the head with the back of an ax, the group's animal welfare inspectors reported.

Earlier this year, the state university in Harare, the nation's highest seat of learning, launched an appeal for $10 million in donor funds to repair its dilapidated campus infrastructure and restore water and power supplies after years of outages in the troubled economy.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, delivering a guest lecture entitled "African universities as agents for sustainable development" on Wednesday, said the university should not be blamed for its failures because of funding shortages. He said the state should take more steps to bail it out.

"The government can't keep saying it doesn't have money. It means that the system of government is not working well," he told a symposium on the university's intellectual and research achievements.

Mugabe is in a shaky coalition with the former opposition of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai whose party controls the finance ministry and the education budget.