Wildlife Activists Outraged as Zimbabwe’s President Offers Land in National Parks to Chinese Investors

By Andrew Mambondiyani, Special to The Epoch Times
June 7, 2019 Updated: June 7, 2019

MUTARE, Zimbabwe—Wildlife and environment activists are expressing outrage that the Zimbabwean government is offering land in national wildlife parks to Chinese investors for the construction of golf courses.

In May, President Emmerson Mnangagwa promised a group of more than 300 Chinese businesspeople and investors who were on a five-day visit to Zimbabwe that he would offer them land in the country’s national parks to develop golf courses.

“The lovers of golf, if there are any here [among the group of Chinese visitors], I offer you land in the national parks so that as you play golf you can be mixing with elephants and lions,” Mnangagwa said to the group in the capital, Harare.

Mnangagwa’s offer to the Chinese investors enraged environment and wildlife activists.

Sharon Hoole, a Zimbabwe animal rights activist with the UK-based group Bring Back Our Rhinos, told The Epoch Times that giving land in national parks to the investors would be a disaster for the parks.

“[It’s like] putting the hyena in the kraal to guard the goats,” Hoole said.

Cecil Kop Nature Reserve
Entrance to Cecil Kop Nature Reserve in Zimbabwe on June 3, 2019. (Andrew Mambondiyani for The Epoch Times)

Mike Hitschmann, a renowned environmentalist and wildlife expert who runs the wildlife sanctuary Cecil Kop Nature Reserve, said the Chinese have a very bad global reputation when it comes to animal welfare, conservation of wildlife and the environment, and environmentally acceptable extraction of natural resources.

“Since the Chinese neo-colonial invasion of Africa, the whole continent is being [abused] like never before,” Hitschmann told The Epoch Times. “Forests are being decimated, [and] wildlife trafficking of endangered species and their widespread mining activities are conducted, without any impact assessments being carried out and zero rehabilitation of the mine sites.”

Several Chinese nationals have been accused of wildlife poaching in Zimbabwe in recent times. Earlier this year, seven Chinese nationals were arrested in the resort town of Victoria Falls for possessing 20 kilograms of rhino horns worth up to $1 million. In 2013, a Chinese citizen was arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport (then Harare International Airport) with 17 pieces of raw ivory, a few weeks after news emerged that elephants were poisoned with cyanide by poachers in Zimbabwe’s national parks.

Hitschmann said that with China’s growing economic influence in the country, Zimbabweans have become used to seeing their government officials “bending over backward” to appease the Chinese.

“And it doesn’t appear as if this sycophantic and often corrupt stance is going to be reversed anytime soon,” he said. “When a country is in economic tatters like ours is, then you can be sure that the message of the importance of conserving our wildlife and environment will fall on deaf ears.”

Mike Hitschmann
Mike Hitschmann of Cecil Kop Nature Reserve (Courtesy Mike Hitschmann)

He questioned the rationale behind offering land in national parks to the Chinese investors, since Zimbabwe already has numerous golf courses in different parts of the country.

“There are around 50 golf courses in Zimbabwe today. Of those, many are already situated in areas where wildlife can be viewed while playing golf. Leopard Rock Hotel [in Vumba] is the closest to us and then there is the one at the Elephant Hills Hotel in Victoria Falls as just two examples,” he said.

In late 2018, Zimbabwean legislator Prosper Mutseyami opined that Chinese companies enjoy protection from the government as the Chinese regime is currently the biggest investor in Zimbabwe.

The southeast African country has received loans and grants worth millions of dollars from China for energy and agriculture development, airport expansion, construction of a new parliament building, and other key infrastructural development projects.

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