By Oscar Nkala
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) is allegedly seeking buyers for three sub-adult lions presently held in the bomas at Umtshibi Camp, a wildlife quarantine facility located deep inside the Hwange National Park.
Zimparks sources in Hwange told The Standard that the lions were captured for relocation in September after killing livestock in Cross Mabale and other communities adjacent to the park.
“The initial purpose of capture was to relocate them to wild areas far from the communities. They were taken to Umtshibi Camp for pre-relocation quarantine but while there, someone at Zimparks HQ decided the authority could make money by selling the lions and they have been searching for buyers since October,” the source said.
“A well-known Chinese live animals trader (name supplied) in Harare is among those who have been approached. I hear they are interested but have made no firm commitments as yet.”
The Standard visited Umtshibi Camp and saw the lions in the bomas. Sources said Zimparks also tried and failed to sell the lions to a leading local tourism company which recently took delivery of dozens of plains game including kudus, impalas and antelopes from Hwange.
Zimparks spokesman Tinashe Farawo initially denied that the authority had lions in captivity but later admitted that the authority was keeping the lions in captivity after being shown photos of the lions in the bomas.
“Yes, we do have lions at Umtshibi Camp and they were captured after terrorising communities around Cross Mabale. However, its not true that the animals are for sale. We want to relocate the lions deeper into the park to reduce chances of them ever interacting with humans and livestock, but translocation is an expensive process. That is why it is taking so long,” Farawo said.
Since 2015, Zimbabwe has made global headlines for controversial live animal exports to Asia and the Middle East amid concerns over the welfare of African animals taken from the wild and held in captivity in Asia. Although the government has defended the sales saying the revenues were used to conserve the wildlife left behind, it has provided no evidence to prove the claims.
Nearly 100 elephants have been exported to China, Hong Kong and oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdoms. In addition, Zimbabwe has exported lions to China and rhinos to the Democratic Republic of Congo among other countries. Sources in Hwange said Zimbabwe presently has two pending elephant orders from China and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A recent investigation into the conduct of elephant sales from Zimbabwe to China between 2015 and 2018 found that Zimbabwe was prejudiced of millions with Chinese companies and local middlemen making millions from baby elephants they bought in Zimbabwe for US$32 000 each and sold in China at up to US$97 000 each.