A Zimbabwean woman of Chinese descent, Song Li, has been named as a central agent in the controversial exportation of elephants to China. She is believed to be working in cahoots with powerful Zimbabwean politicians and a cabal of underworld dealers.
The government has of late been under fire for the capture and sale of baby elephants to China and other overseas destinations. Minister of Environment Saviour Kasukuwere has defended the exercise, arguing that the sale of elephants would bring much-needed revenue to the state coffers. But government has so far failed to divulge where the profits from the sales are going.
Concerned environment activists say the sale of the elephants is shrouded in mystery and benefits only corrupt dealers and politicians.
Li has been identified as having been born in China’s Henan province but, as her current ID card shows, she has obtained Zimbabwean citizenship. A document leaked to The Zimbabwean by a reliable source shows that she was involved in the animal leather business, and is a shareholder in Eagle Tannery.
The sources said Li exports animal hides and crocodile skins and owns an array of other companies, as indicated on the CITES data base. He also alleged that Li uses various routes across Africa to export her loot.
“We have reason to believe that a Chinese national, Ms Li Song, with a variety of unethical business links and ties in Zimbabwe, is in partnership with various ministries and officials across Zimbabwe in a variety of dubious business ventures, all directly involved in the exploitation of Zimbabwe’s natural resources,” states the document.
“This individual (Li) was spotted at Hwange National Park in April 2014 – with a delegation of Chinese business (people) ear marking elephants for export. She is dangerous and powerful – but now she is NOT INVISIBLE.”
“She is the head of the China Trade Association in Zimbabwe (and) it was this position that put her in contact with Kasukuwere,” added the sources.
Li is believed to have played an active role in identifying markets for the “mass exportation” of Zimbabwean elephants. Two other elephant experts, Rowan Martin and Hank Jenkins of Australia, have been named as Li’s other collaborators in the sale of elephants, and sources are convinced that the racket has the blessings of senior government officials. The sources named Martin as having been behind the exportation of some 200 elephants.
Kasukuwere’s ministry represents government in the appointment of environment related boards such as the Parks and Wildlife Authority, which in turn oversees animal welfare, export sales and management. The authority in 2010 agreed not to export elephants or other endangered species, but Kasukuwere has since over-ridden that decision.
“Her (Li’s) unethical business practices have impacted on the Zimbabwean people and animals for a number of years. All her businesses are registered …in China,” said the sources.
They accused her of conniving with parks’ officials and a named minister in constructing the Mana Pools Safari Camp using a company identified as ECIS Investments in 2010, a project they said was a threat to the natural environment.
Other animal activists, like the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), have in the past also fingered Li. “We believe she brought some wealthy Chinese people into the country in connection with the exportation of the elephants and she is apparently connected with high ranking officials in the government ministry (environment),” said ZCTF at one time.