A policeman who was part of a team that ambushed the suspects was killed while chasing the suspects.
Four suspected poachers escaped arrest after killing four elephants by spiking a water pan with cyanide in the Sinamatella area of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe early on Sunday.
In a statement, the Victoria Falls-based Zimbabwean conservation group Bhejane Trust said a policeman who was part of a team that ambushed the suspects was killed in friendly fire after an accidental firearm discharge during hot pursuit.
“Four elephants, plus some small birds, were found dead at a waterhole on the Sinamatella park boundary of suspected cyanide poisoning. Acting on a tip-off, Parks (and Wildlife Authority Management) rangers and Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) details set up an ambush for the suspected ivory dealers involved in the poisoning.
“The four suspects fled in a vehicle after being challenged. The ambush team of two rangers and two ZRP details gave chase, but very unfortunately, one detail had an accidental (firearm) discharge which hit the other ZRP detail, who has subsequently died. The suspects obviously got away, but follow-up investigations continue. Bhejane Trust extends it deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased policeman, who died while doing his duty,” the group said.
The incident came four days after four armed poachers were arrested in a counter-operation by police and game rangers in the Tsholotsho communal lands, southwest of Hwange National Park, while tracking two elephants they had wounded in failed poaching attempts earlier.
Meanwhile, a coxswain employed by a lodge that operates boat adventures in the Lake Kariba resort town of Chirundu was on Thursday arrested with six accomplices for poaching elephants in Lower Zambezi National Park, Zambia.
The department of national parks and wildlife said the seven, who were sailing in a speed-boat, had a backup vehicle that was used to track and kill an elephant on land. However, they were surprised by game rangers while transferring the ivory haul from the vehicle to the speed-boat, leading to an upriver, high-speed chase that ended with the poachers getting arrested after failing to navigate the deep Zambezi current.
Two .458 hunting rifles, seven rounds of ammunition and a pair of ivory tusks were recovered from the suspects. The speed-boat and vehicle allegedly used by the suspects in committing the crime were also confiscated by the parks authority.