Four Chinese nationals have been arrested on cruelty charges after they cut up and ate rare tortoises, an animal protection group said Thursday.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the men admitted to killing 40 of the Bell's hinged species, which are listed as endangered. Investigators found 40 skeletons, 13 live tortoises and tortoise meat when they raided a house in rural southern Zimbabwe, the group said.
These are the first arrests in Zimbabwe of Chinese citizens on charges related to their eating habits. After the arrests, villagers told police and wildlife rangers they sold the tortoises to the Chinese household. Villagers testified the reptiles were dropped into boiling water to dislodge their shells before being butchered, the group said.
Investigators said Zhang Hong Yuan, Chen Caijan, Lin Guibin and Shi Jiahua stored the tortoises in their own droppings and without food or water in 50 gallon (200 liter) drums.
The four, fined separately on charges of "extreme cruelty" under the nation's animal welfare laws, were found to have illegally entered Zimbabwe and were now in jail awaiting deportation, the group said. The men worked without permits in the small scale mining district of Bikita, about 190 miles (300 kilometers) south of Harare.
In a recent influx from Asia, Chinese companies have won construction and mining contracts across Zimbabwe where neighborhood groups have also reported them offering to buy snakes, bullfrogs and dogs, part of their customary diet, from impoverished locals.
Authorities have frequently urged Chinese citizens to observe norms of behavior accepted in Zimbabwe and have warned communities near Chinese work camps not to provide unconventional food supplies.