Conservation report highlights plight of wildlife

A new, independent report depicts emptying nature reserves staffed by ill-disciplined, poorly equipped rangers cruelly killing the animals they were meant to protect wildlife another victim of Zimbabwe's economic chaos.

In one example in the report by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, rangers pumped at least 40 bullets into a suspected rogue elephant as it encroached on a settlement in remote northwestern Zimbabwe. The rangers used AK47s, preferred for close quarter infantry combat, while heavier firepower might have meant a more humane death.

A witness told the task force that the elephant appeared to have been "kneecapped" in the first bursts of fire after it crushed an unoccupied telephone booth. Several minutes and at least 40 shots later, a single heavy caliber shot was heard. The meat was sold to locals, the task force said.

Another elephant was shot 16 times.

Both were shot in full view of "disgusted and heartbroken" tourists, some of whom vowed not to return to Zimbabwe, the conservation group said in the report released Tuesday.

"On the one hand, Zimbabwe is trying to promote tourism, and on the other it is destroying any chances of reviving it," said the task force in its latest monthly report.

No comment was immediately available from wildlife officials.

In total, at least five elephants were shot by rangers looking for the rogue elephant that killed a safari park caretaker in the Chirundu district in the Zambezi river valley on the border with neighboring Zambia, 300 kilometers (190 miles) northwest of Harare, in recent weeks, it said.

One witness complained to the task force that four years ago the Zambezi river flood plain teemed with animals, reports AP.

"Today you are lucky to see an impala (African antelope) down there over a weeklong period," the report quoted the witness as saying. The impala is one of Zimbabwe's most widespread and prolific animal species.

It said that in the flagship 14,000-square-kilometer (5,400-square-mile) Hwange national park, the population of lions was down from a natural level of more than 2,000 in recent years to 18 males and about 200 females.