Cape Town – Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe has reportedly been embroiled in yet another controversy after it emerged that she allegedly used the country's animals to settle a Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) debt.
According to The Times, Grace sent a "menagerie of safari animals to a Chinese wildlife park to pay for military uniforms for the DRC".
At least 35 elephant calves, eight lions, a dozen hyenas and a giraffe were sent to China to settle a debt for boots and uniforms bought for the Congolese military force.
President Robert Mugabe, 92, has had close ties with DRC President Joseph Kabila, 45, and his late father, Laurent, since 1997, when Zimbabwe sent troops there to help squash a rebellion supported by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Quoting conservationists, the report said that there were fears the elephants could be used to start an ivory-farming operation in China.
A detailed report published on the New Zimbabwe website said that the elephants were allegedly captured at the Hwange National Park and flown out of the country in a Russian-registered Boeing 747 belonging to AirBridge Cargo.
A wildlife expert, Nick Lynch, who has reportedly been monitoring the transaction since 2014, described as "a mad act of cruelty" the separation of the young elephants from their herds.
Zimbabwean wildlife officials have defended the move, saying it "would ease pressure on the 'overburdened' parks".
This comes a few days after a Harare judge ordered Grace to return three properties that she seized from a Lebanese businessman in a botched $1.35m diamond ring deal.