Mugabe's Ghoulish Gift for North Korea's Kim Jong Il

Dictator sending exotic animals to Kim Jong Il -- and almost certain death.

ByABC News
May 14, 2010, 3:42 PM

NAIROBI, Kenya May 14, 2010— -- Conservationists and game wardens are alarmed that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has ordered several wild animals, including baby elephants too young to leave their mothers, be sent to North Korea as a gift -- and almost certain death.

The gift from Zimbabwe's dictator is apparently meant for North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Il.

But the decision, made by presidential decree and shrouded in secrecy, has drawn the ire of conservationist groups and local game wardens.

Johnny Rodrigues, head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force based in Harare, told ABC News that he's been asked by members of Mugabe's own government to speak out against the impending action.

"We had one of the national park game wardens and others who were unhappy about the animals being exported come to us," said Rodrigues. "They asked me to expose it to the world."

According to Rodrigues the animals living in Zimbabwe's western Hwange National Park have been captured over the last two months. Witnesses have seen government vehicles carrying cages and putting animals in quarantine.

They don't know the exact number or species of all the animals yet, said Rodrigues, but zebras, giraffes, and baby elephants have been spotted. Two 18-month-old elephants are reportedly being prepared to be airlifted to the Asian country. Rodrigues said this will almost certainly result in their deaths.

"They are still suckling their mothers and need to do it until they are five years old. They are too young to be removed from their parents," he said. "Just the trauma alone may kill them."

Mugabe has a history of sending wildlife to countries, including North Korea, and the result has almost always been bad for the animals. In the 1980's Mugabe sent two rhinos, which are on the endangered species list, to North Korea. They died after only a few months there. Two other rhinos, sent to the Belgrade zoo in the former Yugoslavia around the same period, also died.

Zoos that meet international standards, like those in the United States, have expertly trained veterinarians and scientists who care for animals living in conditions very different than their natural habitat. Rodrigues doubts that North Korea, which is considered one of the most isolated countries in the world, has the facilities or capability to properly care for African wildlife.