SW Radio Africa (London)

2 October 2013

Zimbabwe: Call for Commission of Inquiry Into Hwange Poaching Disaster

Photo: Kevin Walsh
Elephants in the evening, Hwange, Zimbabwe.

The president of an animal conservation group has called for government to set up a commission of inquiry, amid reports that another two members of a suspected poaching syndicate have been arrested.

The two were arrested last week and remanded in custody to October 8th, as the probe into the poisoning and killing of at least 100 elephants at Hwange National Park continues.

Clever Khumalo and Sipho Mafu appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Gladmore Mushove Tuesday, charged with breaching provisions of the Environmental Management Act.

Khumalo and Mafu are accused of teaming up with two others, who are still at large, and poisoning with the toxic chemical cyanide an unspecified number of elephants before removing their tusks.

It is alleged that the cyanide was poured into different animal watering holes as well as the grazing lands in the park, leading to the death through poisoning of multiple elephants and many other animals.

The suspects allegedly took a total of 22 tusks which they transported to Harare for sale to potential clients.

Last week three other poachers also involved in the cyanide case, Diyane Tshuma, Robert Maphosa, and Thabani Zondo were sentenced to at least 15 years jail each. Observers say this is just the tip of the poaching iceberg.

The government has set up a ministerial taskforce to probe the widespread poaching in Hwange. There are also indications that the army could be deployed to curb the poaching.

But Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force president Jonny Rodrigues said the government should set up a commission of inquiry to probe the poaching crisis.

"This commission will be responsible for investigating all the leads to trace where the cyanide is coming from and dig deeper, because there are a lot of big boys involved, including senior police officers.

"If they (the government) are committed they can bring all the people responsible for this disaster to account," Rodrigues said.

He added that the starting point should be the poachers who have already been arrested, "these should be able to give the names of the people behind this, including names of the buyers. They need to follow all the leads because there are more people involved and this."

Rodrigues said he did not think deploying the army into the Hwange National Park, as happened in the 1990s, would help stem the problem.

"From previous experience when they have called in the army, what happens is that the army personnel start poaching themselves.

"What they need is to interrogate the poachers they already have, get all the information, follow up on the leads, and that eventually will lead to results," he added.

On Friday, Rodrigues told the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent newspaper that his group was not happy with the government's response to the latest poaching saga.

He said: "Three years ago some Chinese poisoned elephants in Mana Pools using cyanide, but the government is escalating this into a crisis after a large number of elephants have been killed. We want action taken on the greedy and powerful people behind the poaching syndicates.

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