Katima Mulilo — Relentless efforts by Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) officials resulted in the arrest of three men who were caught red-handed delivering buffalo meat to the house of a prominent Zambezi businessman, Progress Sipapela, last Friday.
The three men, all in their early thirties and whose identities cannot be revealed till they appear in court, initially claimed that the buffalo carcass in their possession was livestock meat but later changed their version and insisted that the buffalo succumbed to a sickness and that they found it dead before they took the meat.
Some parts of the carcass were missing.
According to information obtained from MET officials, Sipapela was promised livestock meat by the trio but was surprised to learn that the suspects delivered buffalo meat instead. He (Sipapela) then alerted the authorities, who pounced on the suspects offloading the meat that was concealed in the boot of an unregistered taxi at Sipapela’s house.
The buffalo is suspected to have been hunted in the Sachinga area, some 40 kilometres west of Katima Mulilo. Chief Warden for Parks and Wildlife Management in the region, Morgan Saisai noted that investigations to establish specifically where the illegal hunt took place will start soon. He rubbished claims that the beast succumbed to sickness.
“These three men are now arrested. We are investigating further to establish where exactly in Sachinga they hunted this buffalo. First, they alleged that it is livestock then changed their story that it died on its own. According to us, this is clearly a buffalo,” said Saisai.
Meanwhile, a further search of Sipapela’s house unearthed suspicious frozen meat but both MET officials and the police could not establish whether it was indeed game meat. It was, however, impounded and taken to the veterinary office for further testing.
Sipapela was not available at the time to ascertain how the suspicious meat ended up in his freezer apart from a few people at his home who could not provide details.
His mobile phone was also not reachable at the time.
Saisai bemoaned increasing cases of poaching, noting that it is a serious challenge that needs concerted efforts from all stakeholders. “Wildlife crime is very persistent and a very serious challenge in the Zambezi Region. As a sector, we are calling for support from all stakeholders to expose these crimes. Communities should also be involved, including the traditional authorities,” appealed Saisai.
He listed elephants, zebras and antelopes, as the leading targets of poaching.
Even though the year has just started, already this is the second case of poaching reported this year. The first case involved Angolan nationals, who poached elephants in the protected area of Bwabwata national park last week. The suspects are said to have fled into Angola, leaving behind two pairs of elephant tusks, camping equipment and utensils.
Saisai noted that lack of co-operation from the Angolan authorities is hampering efforts to apprehend the suspects. “There’s lack of co-operation with the Angolan authorities. We always try to pursue these syndicates but they flee into Angola. We are not getting co-operation like in countries such as Zambia and Botswana,” complained Saisai.
He gave a stern warning to would-be poachers to desist from such plans, adding that “We know all the poaching syndicates in the region, how and where they operate. Some of these people are previous convicts and some of them are even on bail. We are watching them all the time,” warned Saisai.
It was not clear when the three suspects would appear in court.