via Ministers visit Hwange National Park amid reports of more elephant deaths by Patrick Chitumba Sunday, 22 September 2013 02:35
Four ministers yesterday visited Hwange National Park amid reports that a total of 81 elephant carcases, 51 tusks and 35 poisoned salt licks had been found in the park.
Members of the delegation namely Cde Saviour Kasukuwere (Environment, Water and Climate), Engineer Walter Mzembi (Tourism and Hospitality Industry), Cde Kembo Mohadi (Home Affairs) and Professor Jonathan Moyo (Information, Media and Broadcasting Services), members of the Joint Operation Command (JOC) led by Deputy Commissioner General Innocent Matibiri, Environment Management Agency officials and other experts in wildlife management, visited the national park to assess the situation during which they had a view of some of the carcases of the elephants which were poisoned by poachers using cyanide.
The ministers also assessed the parks and wildlife conservation capacity to make sure such a disaster would not happen again amid revelations that the authority had inadequate manpower as there were only 43 rangers in an area which requires 120 rangers for patrols.
The park also has 40 boreholes whose diesel powered pumps need 20 000 litres per month but is not readily available.
To date, over 81 elephants have died from cyanide poisoning in the park in what has been described by environmentalists as the worst conservation disaster in Zimbabwe’s history and 16 poachers have been arrested.
Cyanide is a fast-acting poison that was stockpiled as a chemical weapon in the arsenals of both the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.
The poaching levels in Hwange reached fever pitch early this year as the nation focused on the constitutional referendum, the harmonised elections and United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly, culminating in the horrendous poisoning that has claimed the elephants and other game in what Government has declared an ecological disaster.
Environmentalists say the effects of the cyanide are likely to take a generation to wear off as it is assimilated in crops and ground water to affect an even wider area from where it was administered.
The ministers visited salt pans or salt licks and in one area there were more than 15 carcases some of which were at an advanced stage of decomposition. In one instance, there were remains of vultures and small animals that could have eaten the elephant carcases or visited the salt pan.
Warden Trumber Jura, the Hwange Main Camp area manager, told the ministers that they started detecting the problem in May, adding that they had just buried the carcases and some lumps of cyanide thinking that it was not a big problem.
Asked why they did not report the matter to EMA by Professor Moyo, Warden Jura said it was an oversight on their part.
“It cannot be an oversight on the issue to do with the law, EMA was supposed to be notified of the problem,” said Prof Moyo in response.
In an interview, Minister Kasukuwere said now was the time to review parks operational issues as a means to secure the wildlife.
He said parks needed adequate resources to fully operate since they had the responsibility of protecting the country’s wildlife.
“We also need to come up with legislation that will make it clear to would-be offenders that the State means business when it comes to dealing with poachers. We need more stringent punishment or conditions to deter would be poachers because this is a serious crime that has been committed against our wild animals. We have also seen that these are syndicates which are exploiting local people whom they are giving insignificant amounts while they benefit from our resources,” he said.
Minister Kasukuwere said the Government was very concerned with the rising incidents of poaching in the national park, adding that it was committed to curbing it.
“We cannot allow it to go on considering that the country just recently co-hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the world knows that there is wildlife in the country. So we will not leave any stone unturned as we get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Eng Mzembi said the country was going to take the anti-poaching war to the United Nations.
“We must take this fight to the international market. This is mass murder of our biodiversity for lack of a proper word and so we must take this fight to United Nations since the use of chemicals is prohibited under the United Nations. This is an attack on our wildlife and is similar to the attack against the people of Syria,” he said.
Eng Mzembi concurred with Minister Kasukuwere, adding that parks lacked the capacity to respond to poaching.
“We hope to put resources together and invest in high-tech monitoring equipment like satellite tracking on the elephants. That’s an option we need to consider,” he said.
Cyanide poisoning poses a challenge in that it also kills untargeted wildlife and risks the loss of human life. It is also not easy to rid the environment of cyanide.
Africa has lost 75 percent of its elephant population, largely due to poaching, according to a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report.
The report indicated that Kenya and Tanzania had the worst rates of elephant poaching, accounting for 70 percent of illegal global ivory trade.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species also reported that the level of elephant poaching across all African sub-regions had increased over the last seven years.