The UN said however that the results would be “respected by the assembly” and Taleb Rifai, the UNWTO’s secretary-general, praised the “the civilised and smooth” manner in which the poll was conducted.
At the opening of the summit, Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s tourism minister, said it represented a “global endorsement” of Zimbabwe as a tourist destination.
UN Watch, the human rights group, said it was a “disgraceful show of support – and a terribly-timed award of false legitimacy – for a brutal, corrupt and authoritarian regime”.
“It’s outrageous that the UN is allowing itself to be used like this as a propaganda tool,” Hillel Neuer, its executive director, said.
The arrival in Victoria Falls of 151 wildebeests, 100 impalas, 60 zebras, 25 eland and 10 giraffes from the Save Valley Conservancy in Masvingo province, has provoked further dismay.
Johnny Rodrigues, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce which revealed the figures, questioned how Zimbabwe National Parks could afford the move when it couldn’t pay its staff wages.
“We also find it strange that Zimparks are always claiming that Zimbabwe has an abundance of animals so if this is true, why is it necessary to move all these animals to Victoria Falls where the delegates of the UNWTO will be able to see them?” he said.
Colin Gillies, a local conservation expert, said Zimbabwe’s wildlife numbers had reached a “critical” level since the start of the land reform process which saw many commercial white farmers driven off their land and replaced with smaller-scale, black Zimbabwean farmers.
“So many commercial farmers were doing wildlife on a sustainable basis alongside farming, and that has gone since they were kicked out from 2000,” he said.
“The national park at Victoria Falls has so few animals and that is the case in many parts of Zimbabwe which had rich wild life resources a few years ago.” Pam Birch, from Zimbabwe’s Wildlife and Environment Society, said Zimparks was chronically under-resourced and struggling to control rampant poaching.
“National Parks try hard and do very well considering how little money they have,” she said.