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HARARE, April 15- The ostrich industry in Zimbabwe has virtually collapsed with the few birds left found in private wildlife parks while the association of producers has also folded, leaving farmers without a representative body.

Prices of ostrich skin and meat tumbled during the economic recession experienced throughout the world, starting in 2007.

Most abattoirs have closed and breeding of the birds has stopped, as prices which ostrich skins and meat were fetching on the international markets did not make the business viable.

“It is not a Zimbabwe problem. The market is overseas, both for the meat and skin,” the former Ostrich Producers’ Association of Zimbabwe (Topaz) president, Brendon Cutteral, was quoted saying two years ago.

Ostriches are flightless birds, with their great body size and reduced wing size rendering them incapable of flying. Their strong legs allow them to run at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour when necessary, with strides of up to eight metres.

Ostriches are raised commercially for their meat, hide and feathers. The feathers are used for cleaning fine machinery and equipment as well as for decorations and in the fashion industry.

The quality of feathers produced from ostriches raised in Europe and North America differs from those produced in Africa. The best feathers come from the more arid regions of the world.

Ostriches produce red meat, which is very similar in taste and texture to veal and beef, depending on the age at which they are slaughtered.

The skin (hide) is considered to be one of the most luxurious leathers, and some even place it on par with that of crocodiles and snakes.

Ostrich leather is thick, durable and extremely soft and can be manufactured into a variety of products, such as shoes, bags, purses and jackets.