DEFENCE Minister Sydney Sekeramayi says poachers killing animals on Zimbabwe's wildlife reserves could soon have to contend with soldiers.
Sekeramayi says he is weighing up the option of sending troops to the parks after poachers used cyanide to poison water sources, killing at least 90 elephants at Hwange National Park - the third largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa.
"This is an emergency, and we have to take all the necessary measures to respond to it. If it becomes necessary we might consider deploying the military to protect the animals," Sekeramayi told reporters during a tour of the national park by six ministers.
The six ministers were briefed by Edson Chidziya, the director general of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority of Zimbabwe who said conservation efforts had been affected by sanctions imposed by Western countries.
"The World Bank wanted to come in with US$67 million for aerial surveys and other activities but politics set in and the funds were denied. Our funders are dancing to the tune of their capitals and funding has dried up," he said.
"Some of the areas that were supported include aerial surveys, borehole drilling transport, fuel and so on."
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo told reporters: "If those countries that imposed sanctions would remove them it would become unnecessary to deploy the army."
The ministerial task team, which flew by helicopter around the national park, comprised Sekeramayi, Moyo, Savior Kasukuwere (Environment and Water), Ignatius Chombo (Local Government), David Parirenyatwa (Health), Joseph Made (Agriculture) and Walter Chidhakwa (Mines).
Parirenyatwa said health experts, in collaboration with the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), were taking samples of the affected soil to determine the levels of cyanide concentration before detoxication.
He said they had no reports of human deaths, but awareness programmes were underway. Villagers had also been asked to surrender all cyanide they were keeping, and so far 4kg of the substance had been handed over.
Made said detoxicating the affected areas should be completed before the rainy season to avoid the spread of the cyanide.
Three poachers have been jailed for 16 years each and fined US$200,000 each after being convicted for their role in the cyanide poisoning. At least eight others are still to stand trial.
Environment Minister Kasukuwere said the government would double its efforts to protect the animals, including recruiting more rangers.
"We are determined to protect our wildlife at all cost. We will drill more boreholes in the park because we have realised that these criminals target areas where there is a shortage of water. Hwange should have 700 workers including rangers, but at the moment it only has 145 and we will change this," he said.
"We take this as transnational crime because it is done by locals who are connected to outside traders hence we intercepted 447kg of ivory in Dubai.
"We are engaging Interpol to ensure that we get to the root of this thing. Ivory is in demand and as stakeholders, we need to fight together and stop poaching of our animals."