The construction of a football stadium in rural western Zimbabwe is being stalled by a dispute over its unusual source of funding—elephant hunting.
Zimbabwe’s environment minister Oppah Muchinguri has been forced to deny claims that she is blocking pre-sanctioned elephant hunts, the funds from which would be used to start building the stadium in Tsholotsho.
Under Muchinguri’s predecessor Saviour Kasukuwere, the Tsholotsho Rural District Council (RDC) was issued with hunting permits for some 70 elephants, with the funds raised from the hunt to be put towards building the stadium, Zimbabwe’s state-owned Chronicle newspaper reported.
The chairperson of Tsholotsho RDC, Cde Alois Ndebele, accused Muchinguri of holding up the process on Sunday, according to the Chronicle. “We have all the documents in the office but after the new minister was appointed, things just started stalling, there has not been any movement,” said Ndebele, referring to Muchinguri’s replacement of Kasukuwere as environment minister in July 2015 in a cabinet reshuffle by President Robert Mugabe.
But Muchinguri dismissed the criticism on Monday, saying that the hunts had been suspended after elephants were killed in the area by poachers laying cyanide. “The country suffered bad publicity from the cyanide poisoning and it was felt that the hunts be stopped while the poaching issue was being handled,” said Muchinguri, according to the Chronicle.
Tsholotsho borders Hwange National Park, where scores of elephants were killed by poachers using the poison in 2015, with most of the elephants having their tusks removed. Hwange is overpopulated with elephants, currently hosting twice its carrying capacity with 53,000 of the creatures, and hunting is often cited as a means of generating funds for local communities impacted by elephant populations. Elephant hunting packages sell for around $30,000 online.