Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere yesterday said 80 elephants had died in the last few weeks in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest, while security forces were preoccupied with July 31 harmonised elections.
Ivory poachers killed the elephants by poisoning water holes with cyanide, endangering one of the world’s biggest herds.
Police and rangers had recovered 19 tusks, cyanide and wire snares after a sweep through villages close to the park, which lies just south of Victoria Falls.
“We are declaring war on the poachers,” Kasukuwere said.
“We are responding with all our might because our wildlife, including the elephants they are killing, are part of the natural resources and wealth that we want to benefit the people of Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe is home to some of Africa’s largest herds, with half of its estimated 80 000 elephants thought to be in Hwange.
Kasukuwere, appointed to the Environment ministry a week ago, said he would push for stiff penalties for convicted poachers, who routinely get less than the nine-year jail term imposed for cattle rustling.
Zimbabwe is working to revive its tourism industry, including its wildlife sector, which has suffered years of decline blamed by some on long-serving President Robert Mugabe’s economic policies.
Mugabe and his Zanu PF party, in power since the former Rhodesia gained independence from Britain in 1980, was re-elected in an election in July that was rejected by his main rivals as rigged.
State-controlled media has blamed the poaching on sanctions imposed on Mugabe and his inner circle by Western countries.
But the suggestion was dismissed by former Education minister David Coltart who said the government was splashing huge amounts on luxury Mercedes-Benzes and Toyota Land Cruisers for ministers and their deputies instead of channelling the funds towards the conservation of wildlife.