Zim losing millions to wildlife hunters

Harare – MAJOR players in Zimbabwe’s wildlife industry, with a million hectares of conservancy estates distributed among only a handful of them, are reportedly prejudicing the country out of millions of United States dollars by under-declaring their hunting proceeds while siphoning huge sums into off-shore accounts. It emerged last week that the operators — most of whom have reportedly rejected Government’s indigenisation policy — could also be using their private aircraft to export animal trophies illegally. Out of the seven conservancies spread in parts of the country, four owners have reportedly agreed to partner with indigenous players, although with some hostility, while three have totally refused to recognise the Government’s indigenisation drive that forces them to give up 51 percent ownership to locals. The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has since suspended the issuing of hunting quotas in most parts until the indigenisation concept is fully embraced. Parks director Mr Vitalis Chadenga has confirmed the new procedures regarding the issuing of quotas and the existence of loopholes that are believed to lead to the trophies being smuggled out of the country in private planes. “Trophy return forms are filled and submitted to local banks. The forms detail the amount of animals hunted and the amount of money realised. “Although our staff verifies the hunts, we do not police airstrips.’’ The conservancy operators are believed to be raking in millions of dollars, but remitting far less to the Government. A source within the system said hunts were conducted over 21 days with operators each getting an average of US$52 000 daily. Trophy fees and other costs are payable on the conclusion of the hunt. Of the funds raised, Government is entitled to 6 percent while the Parks Authority gets 2 percent for a particular amount of trophies exported. Reports, however, indicate that some operators were under-declaring proceeds. Although they got a substantial number of hunts, they declared low figures. They then pushed large sums of money realised from the hunts into offshore accounts before making withdrawals from selected banks outside the country. Hunting rates are pegged at US$2 500, US$1 500, US$1 200 for elephants, buffaloes and leopards each day, respectively. It costs US$20 000 to kill a lion; US$12 000 a bull elephant; US$4 000 a hippopotamus, US$5 000 a crocodile and US$2 700 a cheetah. Zebras attract US$1 000; waterbuck US$1 800 and bush-buck US$1 000. A hunter will part with between US$400 and US$1 000 to kill a hyena, impalas, wildebeest and warthogs.  The cheapest hunt is a baboon, which attracts a fee of US$60.  Conservancy operators also rake in additional funds from a US$300 bird licence fee as well as dipping and trophy packing fees that are pegged at US$800 for less than 10 trophies per shipment. It costs US$1 000 to ship at least 10 trophies and US$1 500 for 15 trophies. Transfer fees are in the region of US$600 per vehicle while the minimum air charter fee is US$1 500.It is also believed that clients pay a non-refundable deposit of 50 percent of their daily hunting rates into the operators’ offshore accounts to confirm booking more than two months before the hunt. While some locals were granted leases by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management in terms of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act to join the industry, the wildlife players were reportedly reluctant to share the lucrative business with them. The Act advocates 51 percent shareholding for indigenous Zimbabweans in foreign-owned businesses. Mr Chadenga confirmed that there were disagreements between new beneficiaries and the operators. “Government has put in place the wildlife-based land reform policy. However, there has been noticeable resistance by existing farmers to work with new beneficiaries,” he said. “Some farms are at various stages of ‘indigenising’. We expect to see existing farmers and new farmers working together. They should come up with workable plans.” Among those reportedly at the forefront of resisting indigenisation are operators in Sabe Valley, Bubi and Malilangwe conservancies. Chiredzi, Bubiana, Midlands Black Rhino and Gwayi are, on the other hand, understood to be at various stages of indigenisation although marked with reluctance from the operators.  The Masvingo administration has since resolved, following a meeting with Government, to support the suspension of the issuance of new hunting permits until new and resident conservancy owners come up with joint applications. Parks chairman  George Pangeti emphasised that new permits will only be issued to those in clear working partnerships with locals.

March 2011
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