The noose is tightening on a poaching syndicate that has used cyanide to kill dozens of elephants, with a comprehensive audit in the offing to out all culprits, a Cabinet minister has said.
Further, top managers at the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority – Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri has said – are fixated with lavish lifestyles while neglecting their duties.
Reforms to the way the authority is run will soon be instituted.
In a frank discussion with The Sunday Mail last week, Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said investigators were combing the wildlife sector for clues on the latest elephant killings in Hwange National Park. She said the probe was being expanded to include Parks employees.
At least 55 elephants have been killed at the giant park via cyanide poisoning since early 2015. Twenty-two of them were discovered on October 25, with three ivory tusks missing.
Our sources have previously said a close-knit syndicate involving senior figures and foreigners is behind the poaching.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said, “We are pulling all the stops to deal with (poaching via cyanide poisoning). Information at hand shows cyanide is being smuggled from Zambia and South Africa. “We have information on how these syndicates are operating, and the net is closing in as we speak. A joint operation is in progress, with a lot of work already done to bring the culprits to book.”
She added: “What I want to make clear is that we are going to change a lot of things in the wildlife industry. There are going to be serious reforms. We are going to factor in all issues, starting from the bosses down
to the rangers. We are, therefore, going to conduct an audit to get to the bottom of the matter. “It is clear that the system is not watertight. We had a situation where numbered elephants were killed, so this shows the system is not tight.” The minister said top Parks officials were splurging funds on themselves instead of operations personnel, primarily rangers and conservationists.
She said a major shake-up was looming in the game sector, with hi-tech conservation techniques and animal product value-addition among targeted initiatives.
Others include involving chiefs and communities around game parks.
“We are unhappy that money realised by the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is being spent on the bosses, but not rangers. It appears the money is not being invested in wildlife but luxuries.
“I am concerned, for example, that the boss of Hwange National Park actually resides in Bulawayo. This is an example that casts doubt on whether they are committed to duty or just their lavish lifestyles.”
She also said: “Further, our concern is that (the authority) is not providing the right treatment and working conditions to rangers. It does not make sense that their working conditions are deplorable. These rangers are not paid bush allowances; they lack basics like tents and food, ambulances and schools; and their salaries are low, too.
“So it is easy for them to be tempted to get into poaching. Our call is that those involved in poaching syndicates should be jailed for 20 years.
‘‘We have had situations where some of these poachers are fined US$300 and left to walk scot free. They end up going back to their crime, killing even more animals.”
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said the Environment Management Agency was detoxifying areas affected by cyanide.
She revealed that Zimbabwe recently took delivery of US$3 million worth of boats, tents and trucks from China for the Parks Authority. Authorities also plan to increase hunting concessions for communities.
Globally, poaching and wildlife trafficking are highly lucrative businesses estimated to earn between US$23 billion and US$47 billion yearly. They are jointly ranked fourth on the list of large-scale illegal trade after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
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