Zimbabwe says elephant exports to raise money for conservation

HWANGE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) - Zimbabwe has said it will export dozens of elephants to raise money for conservation after hunting revenues fell when the U.S. banned the import of ivory from elephants hunted in the southern African nation.

The move to export up to 60 elephants to countries that include China, France and United Arab Emirates has angered animal welfare groups, who say the plan is cruel.

But Environment Minister Savior Kasukuwere said on Friday during a tour of Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe that, at 53,000, the elephant population was twice the park's carrying capacity.

He said although the government was being criticized by conservationists, Zimbabwe was allowed to export elephants as long as it met requirements set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Kasukuwere said the restrictions introduced by the United States last year had reduced hunting revenue, which was critical in the conservation of animals.

"We are between a rock and hard place but we have chosen to be decisive. We have a situation where Hwange has more animals than it can carry, what do you want us to do," Kasukuwere said.

(Reporting by Philimon Bulawayo, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia)