By Judith Sibanda
FOREIGN poaching syndicates have continued to wreck havoc in the national park reserves mainly in Hwange region, amid fears by conservationists that the illegal game hunters are becoming more sophisticated as the appetite for elephant ivory keeps surging.
This is despite 3 981 arrests and 64 gun downs for both foreign and local poachers over the recent years according to Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) public relations officer Tinashe Farawo.
Hwange area veteran environmental conservationist Trevor Lane of Bhejane Trust said the dominant poachers were from Zambia who has devised sophisticated means of poaching and to invade law enforcement agents.
“They cross into Zimbabwe at night with a plan to shoot, chop out the tusk and head back straight back out-basically a hit and run tactic now used by the Zambians due to the losses they have suffered from parks patrols…they also wear shoes that have plastic fur glued to the bottom for anti tracking,” Lane explained.
“These are commercial poachers and Zambians are pretty bad because they link up with Zimbabweans, Tswanas and even Namibians. They have got their gang that they are operating with as kingpins. What they also do now is that, they cross here (Zimbabwe) to Botswana (Chobe national park) to poach there and head back.”
Lane has had several encounters with poachers who confess, one of was shot late last year while two others escaped and is awaiting trial at Khami prison in Bulawayo.
Elephant ivory is said to be at high demand in Chinese and Asian markets for medical purposes and as artefact.
Zimbabwe is the second largest elephants breeder after Botswana which has an estimated elephant population of 150 000.
Farawo said poaching syndicates according to statistics wreck havoc more in South West Matabeleland province mainly in Hwange national park where 706 elephants have been killed in the period between 2013 and 2018.
“376 foreigners have been arrested over these past few years. The highest number was in 2015 with 129 arrests and 98 in 2014 while in 2018, we only had four including Chinese and Zambians,” he said.
“About 23 foreign poachers have been killed under that period and the highest number of shooting was in 2016 which claimed 9.
“Generally from 2012 till last year, we have had 176 armed contacts with poachers, and the highest was in 2016, where we had 35 and we had 9 armed contacts.
“For locals, 40 poachers have been killed while 3 605 convicted. 2015 had the highest number of 1 354, these are statistics for endangered species like elephants, pangolin and rhino,” he said.
Farawo added that Zimparks had managed to recover more than 3 000 kilograms of ivory with 2018 being the highest where 1 000 kilograms of tusks were seized together with bullet guns.
“The trend is continuing, we have busted about 40 syndicates this year and we have recovered 161 rifles and 2 369 rounds of ammunition.”
A former Victoria Falls mayor Sifiso Mpofu is on remand after he was allegedly found with eleven tusks at his Mkhosana house last week while seven Chinese are also on remand in Hwange after being found in possession of 20,89 kg semi processed rhino horns with a street value of $1,8 million
“One of the reasons we seem to be winning against poaching is that we have intensified our poaching patrols including joint patrols within the region in the Transfrontier Conservation Areas and Kavango-Zambezi Tranfrontier Conservation Area ( KAZA TFCA) where animals are able to move freely in corridors.”
Kaza Tfca region includes Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Zambia.
Farawo added that they had also increased local patrols with other state security agencies while frequently conducting refresher courses for rangers in information gathering and weapon handling and community education about wildlife importance.
“Communities must see elephants as an economic and infrastructure opportunity and job creation because, we as a country believe in sustainable utilisation of resources.”
Zimbabwe has four main elephant’s ranches which are South West Matabelaland, South East Lowveld, Mid Zambezi and Sebungwe.