Daniel FoggoThe Times
January 18, 2009Hunting parties are paying out thousands to kill elephants, including calves, in Zimbabwe Surgeon Benjamin Chang on top of the elephant he killed in Zimbabwe, 2008
.BRITISH hunters, including a prominent Harley Street surgeon, have been paying the Zimbabwean authorities thousands of pounds each to take part in a mass elephant cull.
They are among groups of hunters who have been permitted to track and kill whole herds, including their calves, before taking photographs of themselves with the carcasses.
Rumours that Zimbabwe was culling its population of 80,000-100,000 elephants have been circulating for some time, but definitive proof that foreigners have been paying to be involved has emerged only now.
Elephant culls are highly controversial. They typically involve killing every animal in a herd, usually about a dozen strong, and they are condemned as brutal and unnecessary by many conservationists.
Supporters argue that the animals are destroying ecosystems by stripping whole areas of edible foliage and monopolising water sources, and that killing is the only effective method of population control.
Alternatives, such as habitat expansion, relocation and even the use of contraception, are proposed by wildlife campaign groups, but the hunters reject them as unworkable.
Peter Carr, a professional hunting outfitter from Yorkshire, took a party to the Hwange national park last year to cull a herd of 11 elephants, including some “adolescent” calves.
The game reserve, which is Zimbabwe’s largest at more than 5,600 square miles, is said to be home to about 50,000 elephants, more than double its capacity.
One of Carr’s party was Benjamin Chang, a British orthopaedic surgeon who is based in London’s Harley Street. He paid £5,600 to take part, most of which was passed on to the Zimbabwean park authorities.
Chang and Carr shot three elephants each. Unlike conventional trophy-hunters, clients taking part in culls are not permitted to keep any part of the elephant; but they are allowed to take photographs.
Ivory from slaughtered elephants has been legally sold by the Zimbabwean authorities to China and Japan. Last November, Zimbabwe sold nearly four tons of ivory in a one-off sale permitted under international law, for £330,000.
The British hunters, who used specialist rifles to kill the elephants, said shooting was the most humane method of killing, although sometimes more than one shot was necessary to dispatch an animal.
Elephant welfare campaigners were horrified. Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation said: “These days it takes something pretty extraordinary to shock and distress as far as Zimbabwe is concerned. But news of the slaughter of elephants inside national parks still has the power to make you sick to your stomach.”
Michael Wamithi, the elephant programme manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare said British hunters paying to kill elephants were unlikely to help Zimbabwean conservation efforts. “Because of the corruption and financial situation I would be surprised if anything at all reached conservation or communities,” he said.
However, Carr said he believed that the money would be used to help maintain the stability of the wildlife in the park.
Carr, author of a forthcoming book, Death in the Bush Veldt, which includes chapters on hunting elephants and other big game, said: “The elephants are slowly turning the land there into a desert. I consider myself a champion for elephants but they must be culled, although it’s such an awful word it makes the bunnyhuggers spit their dummies out.
“No one feels great after culling a herd: it is quite a sombre mood. You have to kill all of them - if any escape they can spread panic in other herds.”
Carr said the cull has been kept low-key. “I was asked last year if I could find clients to go over and shoot 100 elephants as part of the cull,” he said.
“I took one party over [including Chang] and had another 18 clients lined up, half of whom were British, but after that the reports of violence and unrest caused them to back out.”
The overall African elephant population has dropped from 1.3m in 1979 to about 500,000 today, but in some areas they are considered too numerous. South Africa is proposing a cull of elephants in Kruger national park for the first time since 1995.
In Zimbabwe starving people have resorted to killing elephants for food, and recent reports have suggested Mu-gabe’s soldiers are being given meat from carcasses.
Chang, 49, said it was right to use the elephants to feed the Zimbabwean people. “The meat goes to the village. They are queuing at the camp saying, ‘Please give us the meat.’ I was told one elephant will feed one village for 3½ months,” he said.
The hunter, who struck a thumbs-up pose for a picture of him astride an elephant he had shot, went on to shoot a lioness in South Africa. He defended the practice of foreigners paying to kill elephants. “The army could have done the cull themselves but they don’t have the right guns. You can’t use an automatic rifle, that would just be cruel,” he said.Rich game
Big game hunting is a rich man’s pastime. Hunters must pay a fee to kill each animal, and are usually allowed to keep the skins as a “trophy”.
The so-called big five are the most popular prey. A bull elephant costs upwards of £6,500 and can be as expensive as £37,000. Lions cost between £8,000 and £15,000, buffalos from £6,000 and leopards between £8,000 and £15,000. White rhinos, which are often tranquillised with a dart rather than killed, start at about £5,000.