Zimbabwe to import tigers from China

Zimbabwe plans to import four endangered Siberian tigers from China for the country’s national park, a project condemned by wildlife experts as potentially cruel and dangerous.

In an interview published on Thursday in the state-controlled Herald newspaper, Minister of the Environment Francis Nhema said the tigers were in return for Zimbabwe giving China breeding animals such as zebra, elephants and impala.

“We do not have the tiger in this country and we would like to benefit from the exchange programme with China,” he was quoted as saying.

“We are happy that three experts found our animal habitats friendly to the requirements that are compulsory for tiger breeding and we expect the animals would be here as soon as possible.”

The exchange programme is the latest fruit of President Robert Mugabe’s “look East” policy meant to promote ties with China as an alternative to the United States and European Union. The West has shunned Zimbabwe because of human rights abuses and economic mismanagement.

Dr Peter Mundy, a biologist attached to the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo, Bulawayo, said the tiger plan made no economic or ecological sense.

“The whole idea really is a complete load of garbage,” he said.

“We don’t have any money to look after our own animals.”

Zimbabwe is struggling to protect its own endangered rhinoceros and painted hunting dog, and its cheetahs are being poached from recently expropriated commercial game reserves.

“It would be cruel,” Mundy said.

“Siberian tigers are not adapted to anything in Hwange National Park, not the seasons, nor the climate nor the vegetation. And they would certainly be dangerous over here.”

Siberian tigers are native to the pine forest of the remote Amur region, seasonally blanketed in heavy snow.
Hwange National Park, 500km west of the capital, has little

surface water for most of the year. Prides of lion and leopards compete for prey with packs of hyena and painted hunting dog.

Dick Pitman, executive director of the Zambezi Society, which lobbies for conservation throughout the region’s major river basin said “he had no problem” with the plan as long as it was confined to captive breeding, had adequate foreign funding and was run by tiger experts.

Difficulties would arise if the tigers got into the wild, he said.

Seizure of 5 000 white-owned commercial farms and game conservancies under Mugabe’s “fast track” redistribution of land to black Zimbabweans has resulted in massive poaching, conservation experts have reported since its start in February 2000.

Zimbabwe lost 3 000 black rhino to international poaching gangs in the 1980s but has fought for the right to trade ivory from its estimated 80 000 elephants. - Sapa-AP

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