The brutal murder of Australian conservationist Greg Gibbard, axed to death in his cottage in Hwange, Zimbabwe this week highlights the increasing danger conservationists and animal welfare activists face in Zimbabwe.

Gibbard, 62, who had worked as an administrator for Painted Dog Conservation for a number of years and was forging links between the NGO and the local community. PDC worked with local communities to protect painted dogs’, also known as African wild dogs, which are among the most endangered animals on the continent.

Fifty members of the community recently volunteered to be part of anti-poaching and anti-snaring patrols and the local chief had also decided to expel three “known poachers” from his chiefdom.

Peter Blinston, the managing director of Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) wrote on the group’s Facebook page saying that “There have been reports posted around the internet and on other Facebook pages suggesting that Greg’s untimely death was related to poaching activities,” but that there was so far no evidence to support this claim.

In a country where those who speak out against the corrupt Zimbabwe government are likely to ‘disappear’ never to be seen again, environmentalists are reluctant to speak out.  When Zimbabwe conservationist Johnny Rodrigues publicly exposed the Zimbabwe government’s plan to export 200 baby elephants to Chinese zoos, the Zimbabwe Minister of the Environment publicly issued a threat to Rodrigues who is now in fear of his life.

In spite of what happened to Gibbard Rodrigues says that he intends to continue to fight for the animals. “Someone has to do it,” he said.

The latest information on the baby elephants being held captive in the Hwange National Park is that cages are being constructed to enable the babies to be shipped by sea to China.