Poison poaching: new carcasses found

Eleven new elephant carcasses have been found in Hwange National Park – raising fears that the use of cyanide poisoning by organised poaching syndicates could be more widespread than initially thought.

An aerial survey by the Wildlife Environment of Zimbabwe last week exposed previously unreported elephant deaths in the Ngamo and Sikumi forestry areas.

“While initial reports of poisoning were confined to the southern area of the park, it was later discovered that the eastern border area had also been affected,” said Collin Gillies, a member of the Matabeleland chapter of WEZ.

He said eight new carcasses were discovered between Boss Longone pan and an area 2,7 kilometres north off the main tarred road to Sinamatella. “The first flight extending as far south as Lupane and covered the whole of Ngamo forestry area. We found three carcasses in addition to the initial five that had been reported,” he said.

The second flight covered the entire Sikumi forestry area and apart from an already known poaching incident near Ganda lodge not involving poison, no other carcasses were seen.

Conservationist Pat Cox provided his plane and his services to do the survey following concerns about conflicting poaching figures in the media as it reported the worst massacre of wildlife for profit in 25 years.

The government only panicked and stepped-in in September, saying 100 animals had been poisoned.

But professional hunters and animal lovers claim as many as 325 animal carcasses were sighted in the past four months – sparking a national outcry for a declaration of a national and ecological disaster in the area.

Opposition politicians called for detailed investigation to flush out what they described as sophisticated poaching syndicates led by senior government officials.

Although several arrests followed soon afterwards – earning some villagers lengthy jail terms – sceptics continue to question the ability of ordinary villagers to procure cyanide and to engage in intricate international smuggling jaunts.

A new dimension emerged in the past week over the role of Chinese nationals working for mining firms inside wildlife conservancies in the Hwange area – as Chen Guoliang was arrested as he attempted to leave Zimbabwe with several pieces of ivory weighing 113 kg.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force is on record accusing some Chinese nationals at a chrome mine in Mhangura of poisoning wild animals.

The Chinese embassy in Harare reacted swiftly to Guoliang’s arrest, condemning his behaviour and urging Zimbabwe to take stern action against illegal ivory dealers.

Conservationists told The Zimbabwean they were worried about the coincidental influx of Chinese miners in the Hwange National Park and the use of cyanide in poaching.

“I doubt it would be mere coincidence. The high Chinese presence has got to be considered,” said a wildlife conservationist. Last year, two rhinos, a female and a calf were killed and dehorned in the Gwayi conservancy by poachers – the first loss since 2002.

A member of the Hwange–Gwayi Conservation and Tourism Association, said: “We are particularly worried by the fact that poaching by poisoning animals is coming at a time when we have Chinese firms setting up mines in the wildlife areas under unclear circumstances.”

Lin Lin, the Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe, said the laws of the land should be upheld and respected. Those who are smuggling ivory and practicing illegal mining should be punished according to the local laws. We cannot allow criminal activities to go unpunished,” he said.

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