Zimbabwe auctions big game to hunters

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Foreign hunters bid a total of $1.5 million to shoot leopards, lions, elephants and buffaloes in Zimbabwe this year, state media reported this week.

In an annual state trophy hunting permit sale Friday, 64 local agents and foreign hunters, including bidders from Austria, Germany, Russia, Spain and the United States, paid $40 each to kill a lion, the state Sunday Mail newspaper reported.

Bidding for permission to hunt an elephant exceeded $20,000 per animal.

The season for hunting in selected areas runs from May to October.

The state Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said the hunting revenues were to be used in conservation programs across the country, the government newspaper said.

Illegal hunting by corrupt officials, military officers and their foreign guests increased in many rural areas after the chaotic, often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000.

In the worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe is suffering acute food shortages, and poaching of animals for meat has also risen, conservationists say.

Zimbabwe says that rural areas are overpopulated by elephants that cause environmental damage and destroy crops.

Elephants killed at 12 least people in Zimbabwe last year, mostly by charging and trampling villagers trying to protect their crops.

Lions were reported to have killed 17 cattle belonging to a traditional leader in western Zimbabwe in November, but there were no fatal attacks on humans.

Crocodiles, the most dangerous species to man in Zimbabwe, dragged away and ate 13 people — including children fishing and playing at river banks — according to the Communal Areas Management Program, a conservation group.