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Mugabe plans to send "Noah's Ark" to North Korea

Two by two, Zimbabwean wildlife are to be air freighted to Pyongyang. But experts protest.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe is sending wild animals two by two in a modern-day Noah's Ark to North Korea. Here are two zebras in a photo taken on January 12, 2009. (Fahad Shadeed/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Robert Mugabe plans to send a "Noah's Ark" of Zimbabwean wildlife to fellow dictator, North Korea's Kim Jong-il.

Zimbabwean conservationists are furious about the plan and put up such fierce resistance that the plan may be dropped.

At first it was reported that the animals — including pairs of baby elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, hyenas, antelopes, monkeys, warthogs and several types of birds — would be a personal gift to the North Korean leader. Later Zimbabwe's state news media reported that the animals would be displayed to the North Korean public in a zoo.

The scheme could be in doubt as Zimbabwean wildlife experts say the animals would not survive conditions in North Korea. The Zimbabwe Independent newspaper reported today that Mugabe's plan has been shelved.

Wildlife experts say the animals will have a tough journey during the 7,000 mile flight and then are unlikely to survive North Korea's cold temperatures and bad conditions.

Particularly at risk are the two baby elephants who are 18-months-old and 24-months-old, according to experts.

"Elephants typically breast feed until they are four, so these two babies have been taken away from their mothers much too early. I have seen them in their quarantine units and it is heartbreaking," said Johnny Rodrigues, chair of the Zimbabwe Conservation Trust.

"It is inhumane to send these animals to concrete cages in a zoo in a place as cold and inhospitable as North Korea. They can't look after their own people there, how are they going to care for these animals?" said Rodrigues to GlobalPost.

"These animals belong to Zimbabweans. North Korea has a low track record of looking after animals and we can't have our animals living in cages," said Rodrigues. "We should be working on a plan to improve our tourism. We cannot export the beauty of our country to other countries. What will future generations have if we export our heritage?"

In the 1980s Mugabe sent two rhinos — a male called Zimbo and a female named Zimba — to North Korea but they died a few months after being relocated.

Zimbabwean officials defend the export of the animals.

“From our professional judgment, these people (North Koreans) have the capacity to handle these animals,” said National Parks boss Vitalis Chadenga. “This is a legitimate business trade.” He said Zimbabwe will earn $30,000 for the animals.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 60,000 elephants and they cause havoc when living in close proximity to people in villages in the north of the country. Crops are trampled and people injured.

But Rodrigues and other conservationists object to moving the animals. "It's not a good business deal and it's not good for the animals," said Rodrigues. "We have beautiful parks. It's better to encourage people to come see the animals in their natural environment."