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Elephant for Lunch

New Zimbabwe policy shocks wildlife groups

Elephants, one the world’s most treasured animals, are already under threat of extinction in Africa. Now the government of Zimbabwe has announced that these intelligent, social and emotional creatures are going to be shot and killed to provide better lunches for criminals in prison.

Last week, Deputy Minister of Justice Obert Gutu announced that “meals do not meet the approved dietary standards as stipulated by the law. In one of our meetings it was discussed extensively how the problem could be solved.”

Gutu said that serving elephants to prisoners for lunch would also solve another problem: “There is an overpopulation of elephants in the country.”

In fact, there’s no overpopulation of elephants at all. Quite the opposite: African elephants are rapidly headed toward extinction. The government defends what it’s doing by claiming that there are 100,000 elephants in the country. But the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) says there are, in fact, fewer than 35,000. And that’s down from 60,000 only two years ago.

What’s really happening is that it’s the humans who are overpopulating – crowding the remaining elephants out of their old lands, which are being taken over for cattle ranching and crops. The few remaining elephants have nowhere to go, and when they occasionally wander onto the new farms, they get shot as nuisances and are treated as an invasive species in their own homes.

This is not the first assault on elephants by the government. Two years ago, in the face of a food shortage, it began killing elephants to feed soldiers at army barracks across the country.

Johnny Rodrigues of the ZCTF argues that the government’s plan will result not only in the extinction of elephants but in the demise of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry – one of its largest sources of income.

“One of the biggest foreign currency earners in the country is tourism,” Rodrigues told The Zimbabwe Independent. “How then can we steal from our own heritage? Why are we selling our future heritage down the drain? We should be looking after these intelligent animals so that they are not killed.”

What do you say? There are certainly food shortages in Zimbabwe, and for years prisoners have been served a vegetarian diet. What do you think of the government’s new plan? Let us know below or on Facebook.

What you can do: Two organizations that would welcome your support at The African Wildlife Foundation and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.