At least 24 people have been shot dead by Zimbabwe national parks rangers aided by the army and police in a major showdown with illegal hunters, Now Daily has learnt.
The shoot-to-kill policy adopted by the authorities in 2014 after hundreds of elephants were poisoned in Hwange park has been widely condemned by human rights and environmental groups as it is allegedly being abused to target small poachers while members of big syndicates connected to the security services and Chinese mafia are allowed to escape.
“The killings have created tension within the community and have poisoned the atmosphere,” said a conservationist, who disputed the government figure of 24 dead, saying it was ‘too low’. “It is hard to explain that a human being can be killed for shooting a rabbit or trapping a buck, which is what many of the dead people were doing. The big ivory hunters are getting away by bribing officials.”
Minister of environment, water and climate Oppah Muchinguri confirmed the killings and said the suspects died after shootouts with the rangers.
“There was a decline in the number of armed contacts from 26 in 2014 to 23 and in number of poachers killed from 13 in 2014 to 11 in 2015,” Muchinguri said. “The breakdown of poachers who were killed in 2015, poachers were killed in Mabalauta (2), Save Valley Convervancy (3), Matusadona National Park(2), Chirisa Safari Area (1), Sengwa (1) and Chizarira National Park (2).”
Muchinguri attributed the ‘success’ in tackling poachers to the involvement of the army and police, who are also actively searching for illegal gold hunters in the parks areas.
“Countrywide, law enforcement efforts resulted in detection of 2139 incursions, and arrest of 1354 local and 129 foreign poachers. Recoveries made in the field included 25 rifles, 276 rounds of ammunition, 496 pieces of elephant ivory, 4 rhino horns and 5 133 wire snares,” Muchinguri said.
She said Cabinet, at its 33rd meeting on 14 September 2014 set up an ad hoc committee chaired by the minister of environment, water and climate. Its main mandate was to come up with strategies to address the challenges of poaching, illegal wildlife trade and to improve the wildlife industry in general.
Following several meetings of the committee, it was agreed that a number of issues such as administrative, policy and human resources needed to be addressed to reduce poaching, illegal wildlife trade and improve the wildlife sector performance.
Muchinguri defended roping in the brutal JOC, which helped clear the Marange diamond fields through the horrific ‘Operation No Return’.
“The issue of poaching is no longer a conservation issue alone, but a national security issue as well. In this regard, the issue of strengthening our law enforcement effort through Joint Operations with other law enforcement agencies was identified as an immediate strategy to address the rampant poaching,” said Muchinguri. “We have been engaging with JOC in the past and we will continue to engage them for assistance in order to deal with this scourge. Currently, additional manpower was deployed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police in Matopos National Park, Zambezi Valley, Sinamatella Camp and Hwange Main Camp to address both wildlife protection and illegal gold mining. We have established special reaction teams around the country with the assistance of JOC.”
Added Muchinguri, “As long term measures, we are embarking on various projects to capacitate our Parks Authority to better equip them to deal with poaching. We will be procuring additional vehicles and equipment such as drones using our own funds and with additional assistance from other countries such as China. We will not rest or tire until we rid this country of illegal wildlife trade and poaching. We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to JOC and other partners for their unwavering support for environmental law enforcement and conservation in general. Without them, the situation would have been insurmountable.”
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