Zimbabwe's high unemployment levels mean the country is now considered a 'key target' for poaching syndicates, who are raking in millions of dollars as a result of poaching across Africa.
Poaching is on the increase across Southern Africa, and Zimbabwean wildlife authorities have been trying to clamp down on the illegal activity. This has resulted in the recent deaths of poachers, including two in Mbire, who were shot by Zimbabwe National Parks rangers this month.
The two elephant poachers were discovered with heavy duty weapons, as well as military hardware such as mortar bombs. As well as thousands of rounds of rounds of ammunition and guns, the poachers were found with six pairs of elephant tusks valued at US$12,850. Three others poachers in the group ran away.
It is not yet known how the poaching group managed to secure the weapons, but it is suspected they were supplied by soldiers from the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM). Three FADM soldiers were late last month arrested and charged with stealing firearms from the national armoury and re-selling them to criminal gangs.
The soldiers were arrested during a police sting operation and were caught while selling an AK-47 rifle to a suspected arms dealer, who buys high calibre firearms from the military for resale or hire to armed robbers and ivory poaching syndicates.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that poaching syndicates are rife in Southern Africa, amid an increased demand for ivory. He said Zimbabwe was considered a 'weak link' in the wildlife sector and, combined with 90% unemployment, the country is a target for gangs.
"Poaching is escalating but there does seem to be a combined effort from lots of countries to clamp down on it. However it won't eradicate the problem," Rodrigues said.
He added that in Zimbabwe's case the lack of the rule of law was making it even more difficult to monitor and control and until laws are respected, such problems will not go away.