Concern is high about the wellbeing of hundreds of animals that have been removed from the Save Valley Conservancy and relocated within the Zambezi National Park, ahead of a UN tourism meeting in Victoria Falls.
The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly opens this weekend, and over 1,000 delegates from around the world are expected to descend on Victoria Falls for the meeting. This includes diplomats, dignitaries and leading tourism industry officials from 186 different countries.
The preparations for the high level meeting have included the translocation of hundreds of animals to boost the presence of game for the influx of international tourists.
National Parks was mandated to transport 151 wildebeests, 25 elands, 60 zebras, 100 impalas and 10 giraffes from Save to the Zambezi park. Outgoing Wildlife and Natural Resources Minister Francis Nhema last week said that the presence of game in the Zambezi Park had dwindled for many reasons, including poaching.
“The animal population had decreased, in short, due to poaching and other factors and we are now correcting our past mistakes,” Nhema said, while overseeing the first shipment of animals to the park last week.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) said Wednesday that he is “appalled” by the decision to relocate the animals. Rodrigues said that the process is “sickening” and a “marketing gimmick.”
“To relocate these animals just before the UN meeting is a gimmick to try and show the world there is an abundance of game, and act like they are good curators of the country’s wildlife, all to get international acclaim,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues earlier this year called on the UN to move the meeting somewhere else, because Zimbabwe is not meeting the international regulations governing the trade in wildlife. A petition was started after the death of a baby elephant, which was shipped from Zimbabwe to a Chinese zoo in January.
“Zimbabwe is not keeping to the agreements and regulations that govern wildlife protection and conservation. So we agree that the meeting should be boycotted,” Rodrigues said.
The UN meeting is already a source of widespread criticism and condemnation, and in the past two weeks there have been calls for UNWTO member states to boycott the event. The UN has been accused of ‘legitimising’ the Robert Mugabe regime by allowing the meeting to go ahead.