Monday 6 August 2007

The Zimbabwe Standard, 9th January 2000
by: Itayi Viriri

SENIOR officials of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces are believed to be involved in the illegal trafficking of parrots from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The smuggled parrots are believed to have been exported to Libya via Manyame military airbase outside Harare, The Standard has learnt.

In a fax to the secretariat of the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), dated 8 November 1999, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it had been reliably informed that hundreds of African Grey Parrots were being flown into the airbase from the DRC aboard regular cargo planes supplying Zimbabwean troops there. It is understood the parrots fetch high prices on the international market. Aircraft landing at Manyame are only checked by airforce details and are not subjected to the same clearance procedures as civilian aircraft that land at the Harare International Airport.

The birds, which were said to have been crammed into tiny cages, were then transferred to Libyan C130 transport aircraft and whisked off to Tripoli. Zimbabwe has about 11 000 troops in the DRC, fighting to prop up the government of Laurent Kabila. Last year, defence minister, Moven Mahachi, announced that the defence forces had set up a privately owned company to exploit business opportunities in the DRC to help offset the huge costs incurred by the war.

As a result, Osleg (Pvt) Ltd and a number of subsidiaries were established to deal with these operations, believed at the time to be mainly related to mining and the marketing of gold, diamonds, copper and other related minerals from the DRC. Defence forces chief, Vitalis Zvinavashe and the defence ministry’s permanent secretary, Job Whabira, are listed as two of Osleg’s four directors.

Part of the SPCA’s communication to CITES read: "It is almost impossible for the SPCA to get permission to get into the airbase because of military security." With Zimbabwe fully aware of CITES’ international influence, the organisation’s intervention is believed to have put a halt to the illegal trafficking. It is believed that the organisation, through its acting chief of the Enforcement Unit, John Sellar, contacted the relevant CITES authorities in the DRC, Russia and Zimbabwe, to put an end to the trafficking.

CITES also alerted the World Customs Organisation since the activity involved the illegal trafficking of a protected species. According to a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Federation of Birds Society, a single African Grey parrot can fetch anything from US$800 to US$1 500 on the international market, depending on their age and condition. Said the spokesman: "These birds-also known as the Congo Grey as they are mostly found in the Congo jungle-are in high demand in the West. They can live up to 50 years and so they are very popular as long-term pets." Simple calculations show that if on average, one parrot costs US$1 000, then a shipment of 100 African greys would fetch US$100 000 or around Z$4 million. The Standard is reliably informed that several shipments of the birds have landed at Manyame, although it has not been established how many birds have been aboard each flight.

When contacted for comment by The Standard, defence forces spokesman, Colonel Chancellor Diye, denied that any such activities had ever taken place at Manyame airbase. Said Diye: "The Zimbabwe Defence Forces military police details manning that point of entry have never come across any such illegal contraband. In view of the above, there is no such illegal trafficking of the birds as alleged in your inquiry."

It is not the first time Zimbabwe has been allegedly involved in smuggling parrots to the West. Some years ago a BBC documentary named private individuals in Zimbabwe as the source of hundreds of parrots smuggled into Britain, many of which died on the journey.

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