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First, they sold their elephants to China. Now, the Zimbabwe government has placed an ad in its state-run newspaper asking members of the public — at least those who have the money and space — to buy some more of the country’s wild animals.
The reason is a devastating, relentless El Niño-induced drought that has left as many as four million Zimbabweans in need of food aid and ravished the country’s natural resources, decimating crops and drying up water sources. At least 16,500 cattle have died.
Zimbabwe is home to 10 national parks, one of which housed Cecil the lion, a beloved, dark-maned lion that was killed by a U.S. dentist last year. The parks, filled with giraffe, buffalo, zebra, lion, cheetah and elephants, draw both tourists and poachers.
Last year, the Zimbabwean government drew scrutiny and the ire of conservationists when it began selling elephants to China. The sale, government officials admitted, would reduce the booming elephant population but also raise money so the country could buy things like anti-poaching and surveillance technology.
Officials told CNN the money from this sale would be used to benefit the animals, and the reduced number of wildlife would unburden grasslands and water resources until the next rainy season.
“We hope the funds will be used to buy food and secure water facilities for distressed animals,” Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told CNN.
The parks authority indicated that it intends to sell the animals to private wildlife reserves, according to CNN, but it didn’t specify which animal breeds were for sale, how many would be sold or for how much.
When the country sold dozens of elephants to China, conservationists predicted the animals could go for prices as high as $50,000 each.
Reuters reported that the Hwange National Park houses about 54,000 of Zimbabwe’s 80,000 elephants, more than four times the number of elephants that park should hold.
In February, Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, declared a state of disaster in rural areas affected by the drought. That same month, Muchinguri-Kashiri told reporters that 12,000 boreholes drilled to expose water had dried up due to low water table levels.
The last time the country experienced a drought of this magnitude, it was forced to kill — wildlife officials used the term “cull” — thousands of elephants and impalas to keep other animals and its starving population alive, according to a New York Times article published in 1992.
In the past, conservationists have expressed concern that exporting wildlife animals could end up being more harmful to the animals, especially if they’re sent to places like China, where poachers hack off their husks and sell them on the black market.
This most recent public appeal could draw the same kind of criticism from conservationists and animals rights advocates, though a statement from the parks authority indicates it’s implementing safeguards to prevent the animals from falling into the hands of those that might cause them harm.
The agency asked those interested to “provide the following information about the habitat which they intend to put the acquired animals in: name and address of property, size of property, ownership of the property, description of current land use, intended use for the acquired animals and existing infrastructure e.g. fences, water availability, roads, fireguards, protection/law enforcement capacity and management,” CNN reported.