In the wake of a major poaching incident that gained international attention, Zimbabwe has launched a campaign against poachers that sends a strong message of Zimbabwean leadership. The country will not stand for the plundering of precious and irreplaceable local fauna or the desecration of majestic wildlife for sport.
International poaching syndicates kill elephants and rhinoceroses to obtain their tusks and horns which are in high demand in east Asia where these animal parts are believed to possess medicinal and magical properties. In this most recent episode in Hwange National Park, poachers poisoned salt licks near watering holes frequented by these majestic beasts, leading to the death of more than 80 elephants and uncounted numbers of buffalo and kudu. The reverberations of these wanton killings are still being felt throughout the park’s ecosystem as predators and scavengers become secondary casualties after consuming the poisoned flesh of the felled herbivores. Deaths have been reported in the park’s lion, leopard and bird populations as the poison works its way up and down the environmental food chain.
Local authorities were alerted to this most recent development earlier this month when they discovered two rotting carcasses of de-tusked elephants. The situation rapidly escalated as more animals were discovered dead. Thus far, eight suspects have been arrested and police have confiscated 51 tusks – valued at more than US$ 360,000. The Zimbabwe government also dispatched a high-level delegation to the park to assess the situation on the ground. The Minister of Environment, Savior Kasukuwere, announced a “war against poaching” while the Tourism and Hospitality minister, Walter Mzembi took to the airwaves, describing the situation as a “murder” of Zimbabwe’s wildlife, and vowing to take the fight to the international level.
Proving the seriousness of the country’s intentions on the matter, a Zimbabwean court has sentenced three of the poachers to 16 years in prison for killing the elephants and convicted them for illegal possession of ivory, contravening a law that prohibits the possession and discharge of hazardous substances into the environment. The men were also ordered to pay fines ranging from $200,000 to $600,000 that must each be paid before the close of the year. According to the police investigating the matter, this was the work of an organized crime syndicate. The remaining accused will be standing trial next month.
The Minister of Environment, Savior Kasukuwere issued a statement, welcoming “the bold stance by the judiciary” in protecting Zimbabwe’s wildlife. Poaching has been on the rise in Zimbabwe in recent years as the state national parks management agency is seriously under-funded as a result of a severely depressed economy over the past decade. In Hwange National Park only 50 rangers patrol the 14,650 square km park, about one tenth of the number of rangers needed.
Africa has lost 75 percent of its elephant population, largely due to poaching, according to a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, though most of the poaching takes place in Kenya and Tanzania, which account for 70 percent of the global illegal ivory trade. It is reassuring to see the people and government of Zimbabwe taking a leadership role in solving the crisis to secure the natural habitat of many specifics for their own sake and for future generations of humans to explore.