There has been an apparent resurgence of poaching of elephants through cyanide poisoning over the past few months. This reminds us of the carnage that visited Hwange National Park three years ago when as many as 300 elephants were decimated through cyanide poisoning.
After killing the animals, the poachers dehorned scores of the carcasses and made their way undetected. Thereafter, cases dropped somewhat but over the past six months or so, the poachers appear to have bounced back to their criminal ways.
In June 10 elephants died due to cyanide poisoning in the same park. Three weeks ago, another seven jumbos were killed in another case of cyanide poisoning in Sikumi Forestry area in Dete in the same province and close to Hwange National Park.
The latest incident that happened on Friday last week saw two elephants being killed, also through cyanide poisoning, in the Liyasha area of Hwange National Park. One of them had its tusks removed. About 250kg of cyanide was recovered.
Therefore, at least 17 elephants have been poisoned by cyanide over the past three months.
“I can confirm that we received a report on the discovery of two elephants that were killed; one jumbo was dehorned and the other had its tusk intact. It is suspected they died due to cyanide poisoning. Investigations are in progress and the matter has been reported to the police for further investigations. The Environmental Management Agency team is also on the ground disinfecting the poisoned areas,” ZimParks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said.
Poaching, he added, remains the biggest challenge they were facing as an organisation. “We would want to increase patrols in the national parks to curb poaching activities but at times we are constrained by shortage of resources hence we are appealing to partners to assist,” he said.
We are deeply concerned that the criminals, those poaching through cyanide poisoning, seem to be a step ahead of all of us. Authorities are only finding decomposed carcasses of the animals having been already dehorned. As Mr Farawo put it, resource constraints are hampering the ability of ZimParks to fight and defeat the poachers.
The sobering result is the continuing decimation of a national resource and the economy being prejudiced of huge sums of money in potential revenue.
In addition, they are often equipped with inside information that enables them to strike where and when safe and most rewarding for them. Pitted against a poorly equipped and funded ZimParks, the poachers have an upper hand.
For this reason, the ZimParks spokesperson appealed to the private sector and communities to partner the authority in curbing cases of poaching to facilitate sustainable utilisation of the country’s wildlife resources.
We echo ZimParks’ appeal for assistance.
We appeal to the Government to help as it is among its primary responsibilities to safeguard our natural resources from plunderers like cyanide poachers. Resources are tight, we know, so the Government might not be able to adequately fund ZimParks’ anti-poaching activities. Thus the private sector is called upon to assist —those directly involved in the safari and tourism sector even those in other industries.
Safari and tourism operators need to understand that their businesses are dependent on the existence of wildlife.
Without it, they have no product to market. The assistance can be in form of all-terrain vehicles to take anti-poaching teams deep into forests where the crime is committed. It can be modern equipment that can be used for surveillance and tracking down poachers. It can be by way of material to fence off all game parks across the country to limit intrusions. It can also be through employment of more antipoachers.
In terms of surveillance of forests and wildlife, unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, would be very useful in the anti-poaching campaign. We remember that late last year, there was a donation of drones from a South African company, UAV and Drone Solutions and Air Shepherd to help police Hwange National Park.
We appreciate the donation from the two organisations and call upon other foreign partners to contribute. Reports say that South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and other African countries have deployed drones in their game parks and managed to reduce poaching activities markedly. The use of drones must be expanded in Hwange National Park since we continue to receive reports of poaching there. A park of its size needs more of that technology.
The Government will be unable to go it alone, so partners can chip in. Other parks, among them Gonarezhou and Chizarira will also need the technology, working hand in hand with the more traditional antipoaching methods such as foot and motorized patrols.