A joint operation by the police and the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority has busted several poaching syndicates around the country, leading to the arrest of some of the most notorious perpetrators of the crime in the past few weeks.
Over 55 elephants were poisoned by cyanide in Zimbabwe since early 2015
Police have also recovered more than a tonne of cyanide, as authorities move to clampdown on poaching that has caused the deaths of dozens of elephants and other animals at Hwange National Park and in other parts of the country.
Several gun-totting poachers have been nabbed in the extensive operation, which has seen police officers encountering trigger-happy criminals, resulting in movie-style gun exchanges.
Recently, two police officers were gunned down in Manicaland by suspected poachers but despite this setback, police seem to be winning the war.
National Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, said: “I’m pleased to say that police are now on top of the situation in terms of combating cases of poaching, especially cyanide poaching, which killed a lot of elephants at our national parks last year.
“A large number of culprits fingered in the poaching have been arrested. We have launched operations, which are being carried out by the police support unit in collaboration with the national parks and wildlife authority,” she said.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said a gang of alleged poachers that included the father-and-son duo of Robert and Leonard Ngwenya were arrested after having been on the police’s trail for three weeks.
Robert and Leonard of Lusulu, who used the aliases Kalonga and Tembo Mutale, fled police on December 23, 2015 when they were allegedly caught red-handed with an impala carcass.
Their accomplice Simon Mungombe was arrested on that occasion. He had on him a .303 rifle, four live rounds, one spent cartridge, 17 class one wire snares, an impala carcass and a knife.
The elder Ngwenya (54) even had the cheek to report to police that his gun was missing, before cops discovered that the weapon was being used for poaching.
Said Snr Ass Comm Charamba; “The suspects had been on the police wanted list since December 23 when police arrested one of the poachers, Simon Mungombe who implicated other members of the gang.
“On December 23 at around 1700 hours, three national park rangers namely, Butelezwe Dube, Patson Gwavava and Alfred Chikunde Mungombe in Chizarira National Park were on patrol when they discovered human spoor which they tracked for about 2,5 km and caught up with three poachers armed with a .303 rifle. One of the poachers fired at three rangers who returned fire leading to the arrest of Mungombe who surrendered.”Two weeks ago, police also arrested poachers in Masvingo and Guruve.
In Masvingo, Jason Chisango (57) was caught by game scouts at Sangi Conservancy, Devure Range and implicated Munashe Mudenge Mugwira, Tavengwa Machona, Batanai Manga, Tavengwa Mazhongwe and Doctor Mazhongwe.
Machona, Manga and Mugwira were arrested in separate incidents.
An AK 47 assault riffle, 7mm Mauser pistol and 303 rifles, four .303 live rounds, one spent cartridge used by the gang to commit poaching activities were recovered. Police in Guruve arrested Henry Zvitete (37) for possessing two elephant tusks worth US$1 382.
Snr Asst Comm Charamba said police had recovered large amounts of cyanide in recent months, including more than a tonne of the poison at a warehouse in Bulawayo last Thursday.
In another incident in Dete, police recovered 100g of cyanide and arrested Gilbert Mathe, Lucky Mubheuri and Nkululi Ngwenya for possession of the substance.
On New Year’s Eve, police recovered 50kg of cyanide from Brighton Gara (36) of 528 Makusha Shurugwi at roadblock at the 10km peg along the Gweru-Shurugwi-Zvishavane Road. Snr Asst Comm Charamba said more deterrent sentences should be imposed on people found in possession of cyanide.
“What is worrying is that while we are trying to combat cyanide poaching. Most of the culprits who have been arrested have gone to court and they have been given fines of US$20, which are not deterrent enough,” she said.