for National Geographic News
Wildlife has been nearly wiped out on Zimbabwe's former private game ranches in the seven years since President Robert Mugabe began seizing and dividing the areas into small plots, a conservation group says.
Some 90 percent of animals have been lost since 2000, while the country has seen an estimated 60 percent of its total wildlife killed off to help ease massive economic woes, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said in a report issued in June.
"[The animals] are being killed indiscriminately," said Johnny Rodrigues, the author of the report. "There's a lot of commercial poaching, there are people on the ground snaring these animals. This is where a lot of the destruction is coming from."
For its study, the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force gathered information and studied records about 62 game ranches. Fifty-nine reported losses, including the killings of a total of 75 rare black rhinoceroses and 39 leopards.
Most of the losses appeared among antelope, including 9,500 impalas, nearly 5,000 kudus, and 2,000 wildebeests.
The numbers help give a rough estimate of the environmental impact of Zimbabwe's recent descent into economic and political chaos.
Inflation—estimated at 5,000 percent—is now the worst in the world. On Wednesday the government introduced a 200,000 Zimbabwean dollar bill—which is worth only about $1 dollar U.S. on the black market.
The economic meltdown has had a wide-ranging and devastating impact on what is one of Africa's premier tourist draws. Zimbabwe's wildlife parks teem with herds of elephants and rhinos, as well as sights such as Victoria Falls.
Along with plummeting wildlife numbers, the country has seen massive deforestation and the neglect of some national parks.
At Hwange National Park, for example, animals have been killed off by severe drought, a problem exacerbated by scarce gasoline supplies.
There is no longer enough fuel to power the pumps that feed the watering pans where animals gather.
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