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Elephant on the menu for Zimbabwe's hungry cons

Cash-strapped prison chiefs in Zimbabwe have come up with an innovative plan to provide meat to thousands of hungry inmates - feed them elephants.

President Robert Mugabe's justice ministry claims there are "too many" elephants in Zimbabwe, and culling and cooking them could be a way of supplementing prisoners' meagre diets.

However, the plan has sparked outrage among conservationists.

Reports say most of Zimbabwe's 13,000 or so prisoners haven't tasted meat for four years. Inmates have been surviving on near-starvation rations of cabbage and beans with maize-meal porridge known as sadza, leaving them weak and prone to diseases such as cholera.

"The meals do not meet the approved dietary standards as stipulated by the law," said deputy justice minister Obert Gutu, confirming his ministry would start talks with the state parks and wildlife management authority for the supply of elephants to prisons.

He claimed Zimbabwe was over-populated with elephants. "Why not get some of them and give them to the prisoners as meat, since we don't have meat and neither do we have the money to buy it?" he said.

Conservationists claim Zimbabwe's elephant population has been vastly overestimated. Johnny Rodrigues, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, disputed claims that there were 100,000 elephants in Zimbabwe. He put the figure at nearer 35,000, with just 8,000 in the country's largest game park in western Hwange. Plans to feed elephants to prisoners could result, he warned, in the "extinction" of Zimbabwe's elephants. He said he was "disgusted" with the proposals.

"They keep saying we have an overabundance of elephants and we don't," he said yesterday.

"We're trying to put a stop to poaching and then the government goes and does it. They set the example. It's unbelievable."

During a decade of food shortages, Mugabe and his generals have often ordered conservancies and game parks to be raided for buffalo and elephant meat, either to feed the army or for festivities like the president's birthday party, hunters say.

In eastern Manicaland province this week, a bull elephant was slaughtered to feed thousands of Mugabe supporters at a rally to celebrate Zimbabwe's 31 years of independence. State media said it was "a treat."

Poachers - many of them operating in organised syndicates - also target the elephants for ivory. Police arrested four last week at Harare's Avondale shopping centre. They were found with 15 elephant tusks worth more than 5,000 in the boot of their car.

The authorities appear to have shelved controversial plans to make and market elephant biltong, a version of the strips of dry beef so popular throughout southern Africa.

At the time, parks director Morris Mtsambiwa said the project - which would have seen the culling of 6,000 elephants a year - was part of the "sustainable utilisation" of the animals.

 
 
 

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