via Government must declare poaching ‘national disaster’ | SW Radio Africa by Tichaona Sibanda on Monday, October 14, 2013
A leading conservationist has called on the government to declare the current rampant poaching of elephants a ‘national disaster’ to help stem the crisis.
The illegal killing of elephants has been on the rise again with poaching at its highest level in a decade, fuelled by global demand for ivory, particularly in Asian countries.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task force, implored government to take drastic action to stop the menace.
Almost all of the elephants that have been killed for their ivory by poachers in the last few months have died because of cyanide, used to poison their water holes in Hwange, the country’s largest game park.
Wildlife department officials have confirmed that the deadly chemical also killed numerous smaller animals and predators which feed on them. Last month nine poachers were arrested after rangers tracked them to a cache of ivory hidden in the park.
Rodrigues told SW Radio Africa on Monday that the authorities must find a way of ensuring that safari operators in the Hwange national park give a certain percentage of the game they kill to local communities, for food.
Some of the local communities who live on the borders of Hwange national park have been linked the poaching, as they try to make a living from assisting the criminal gangs.
It’s believed the communities used to make money from selling game meat but have in the last years been shut out of the business by safari owners, who got their licences under ZANU PF’s indigenization program.
‘Before the safari businesses were given to people who support the system (ZANU PF), safari owners used to give a certain percentage of their hunt to local communities. In the last five years it hasn’t been happening.
‘What will end up happening is that villagers who live around wildlife areas will have no choice but go and kill the animals for survival,’ Rodrigues said.
The conservationist added that since May the country has lost at least 325 elephants to poachers; 300 were killed in the Tsholotsho district, 15 in Ngoma and 10 near the main camp in Hwange national park.
Over the weekend more elephant carcasses were discovered in Hwange, in what is suspected to be a fresh case of cyanide poisoning. Newspaper reports on Monday said next to the eight carcasses were seven dead vultures.
Lionel Saungweme, our correspondent in Bulawayo, told us the poachers are becoming more sophisticated and audacious—after their latest killings under the noses of park rangers at the main camp.
‘By going to such great lengths to poison the elephants, right under the radar of park officials, shows the poaching gangs are becoming more sophisticated, more vicious and much harder to catch.
‘There are fears that higher-ranking beneficiaries of this poaching syndicate remain untouched, while the small fish that actually do the dirty work are the ones that have been caught and sent to jail,’ Saungweme said.
He explained that the decimation of elephants and other wild animals represents not only the depletion of precious and irreplaceable wildlife, but a threat to the livelihoods of the tens of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans who rely on the tourist industry generated by wildlife.