Rhino poaching: ministers fingered

The names of four senior Zanu (PF) officials repeatedly resurface in rumours about rhino poaching, according to United States diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

Francis Nhema
Francis Nhema

In a cable dispatched on December 14, 2009, US Ambassador Charles Ray named Environment Minister Francis Nhema, Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, Defence Forces Chief Constantine Chiwenga and chief of conservation in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Vitalis Chadenga. He said it was widely suspected that rhino poaching has been rampant for decades because of lax law enforcement and collaboration between armed poachers and senior government officials.

“Given the numerous cases in which the accused persons in poaching were granted bail or absconded, many believe bribes or pressure from senior government officials is thwarting justice in these cases,” says the cable.

“Despite these persistent allegations, neither conservationists nor journalists have been able to uncover definitive links between specific senior officials and those who are found in possession of illegal ivory or rhino horns. These same conservationists and journalists, however, have been warned not to investigate too deeply into the issue, adding more legitimacy to the concerns that top government officials are involved,”it adds.

Efforts to get comments from the officials named have been fruitless, but one official close to Chiwenga said: “Those are imaginations of our western detractors. How can Chiwenga or Mpofu afford time to go poaching considering their busy schedules?”

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force announced that two rhino in the Save Valley Conservancy were shot by poachers over the Easter weekend. “It would be a very simple matter for either the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources or National Parks to put a stop to this madness and we can’t understand why they seem reluctant to do so. Extensive reports and photos have been tabled in Parliament and still there is no change,” said the task force.

A senior prison officer, Assistant Commissioner Apinos Mudzamiri was arrested last month after being caught with four elephant tusks and a quantity of marijuana, but such cases are rare.

Despite considerable evidence of unrestrained poaching, Environment Minister Frances Nhema has publicly proclaimed that things are under control and downplayed criticism of Zimbabwe’s management of its rhinos. In the last three years, approximately one-quarter of all black rhinos have been killed by poachers.

Local conservationists are increasingly concerned that Zimbabwe’s rhinos are on a path to extinction as government officials fail to take adequate action to stop the slaughter and bring the rhino killers and horn traffickers to justice.

Horns now have a street value of over $65,000 a kilo — more expensive than gold or platinum. Some Chinese are loudly lobbying for the trade in horn to be relaxed.

Post published in: Environment

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