JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Robert Mugabe's birthday is a big deal in Zimbabwe.
The country's economic devastation be damned, every February 21 is celebrated with events including a soccer tournament (the "Bob Super Cup"), a concert and a lavish party in honor of Comrade President who has ruled for 35 years.
This year, to mark Mugabe's 91st, the party is expected to feature wild game on the menu — including elephant meat — a plan conservationists have criticized as "unethical" and which local villagers say will hit their income.
According to The Chronicle, a state-run daily, a prominent local farmer has offered to donate two elephants along with two Cape buffalos, two sable antelopes, five impalas and a trophy lion for the birthday bash.
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The farmer, Tendai Musasa, called the donation of animals worth an estimated $120,000 "a perfect gesture." The animals will be slaughtered a few days ahead of the party, and the meat stored by a local hotel, he is quoted as saying.
Villagers from the area say the animals are part of the community's annual hunting quota, and will mean a loss of income for the year. But they feel powerless in challenging Musasa's donation, for fear of being seen as criticizing Mugabe's birthday celebrations, The Chronicle said.
Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, called the killing of elephants "totally unethical," telling the Guardian: “I am not in favor of anyone donating wild animals for a celebration or for any other reason."
Zimbabwe is already under fire for its treatment of elephants, including capturing live baby elephants for export to countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates.
Mugabe's birthday party is due to be held February 28 at the Elephant Hills Resort, a luxury hotel near Victoria Falls that features an 18-hole championship golf course and a spa. An estimated 20,000 people are expected to attend.