Forestry official implicated in cyanide killings released  (Zimbabwe)


Whinsley Masara, The Chronicle

Date Published

A Forestry Commission officer who was arrested for poaching while his three other accomplices fled after they were found in possession of ivory, has been released under unclear circumstances. Acting on a tip-off, a police anti-poaching team pounced on the suspects at their homesteads in Dete and found them with an unstated number of tusks. 

The suspect, Josphat Nkomo (34), was arrested last Wednesday at around 10PM at Dinde while his brother, Elmon Nkomo and two Zambians are still at large. Although Nkomo allegedly confessed that he was involved in the poisoning of elephants after being caught with the tusks, The Chronicle has established he is roaming free. 

A police source said: “Nkomo was released because there is no evidence linking him to poaching.” Matabeleland North police spokesperson Inspector Siphiwe Makonese has not been reachable for comment. 

Forestry Commission spokesperson Ms Violet Makoto confirmed the arrest of the suspected poacher. “One of our officers, Mr Nkomo admitted to being involved in a number of elephant poaching incidents in areas around Dete and Hwange National Park. He stated that together with his brother and the Zambians, they were involved in cyanide poisoning cases in forestry areas and are the ones who poisoned the elephants which died two weeks ago in the Ivory Lodge concession,” she said. 

Ms Makoto said Nkomo, together with his brother who is a former Forestry Commission employee, had provided temporary accommodation at their homesteads for their two foreign accomplices.

“Forestry Commission is aware of the arrest that was made by police in Hwange and our position is very clear that we do not condone poaching activities and especially so when one of our employees is implicated. We have been following with interest to see how the case is being handled and we are available to assist police with investigations that we hope will lead to the arrest and prosecution of the trio that escaped. We want the law to take its course and justice to prevail,” she said. “We also want the public to note that the bad apples within Forestry Commission are in no way a reaction of how Forestry Commission operates. We are a law-abiding institution with the responsibility to protect forest resources on behalf of Zimbabwe and any association with poachers and poaching activities by one of our own is inexcusable”. 

Ms Makoto said the Forest Protection Unit guards together with the anti-poaching team would continue to intensify patrols in the Forestry and National Parks area to curb poaching incidents. Two weeks ago, seven dehorned elephant carcasses were discovered in Sikumi Forestry area in Dete. It was alleged that all the seven had died due to cyanide poisoning which had occurred at different times. 

Two of the elephants were killed this month, while five others are alleged to have been killed about a year ago, only for the carcasses to be discovered following the latest poisoning. 

The poisoning of elephants with cyanide was first reported in 2013 and more than 300 jumbos died in the Hwange National Park, sparking nationwide outrage. Matabeleland North police have embarked on an operation called “Nhaka Yedu/Ilifa Lethu” targeting poachers. 
They have set roadblocks with a team comprising Campfire officials who will search vehicles for any weapons and game meat or anything suspected to be connected to poaching activity. 

Other anti-poaching teams will search trains while others patrol the National Park and the Forestry areas. In June, a total of 10 elephants died due to cyanide poisoning at Hwange National Park. Early this year, a suspected Zambian poacher was shot dead while another one was injured in Sibomvu area in the Pandamasule Forest in Matabeleland North Province.