Government has conceded defeat in the war against wildlife poaching, saying its few and poorly-equipped game rangers were being overwhelmed by the agility of poachers who are using advanced weaponry.
Developments in recent weeks have shown that poachers continue to wreak havoc in the country’s wildlife areas despite measures by government to contain the scourge.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, has now raised the red flag and appealed to the private sector and the international community for assistance in the form of funds and equipment to help deal with the menace.
The Minister’s call comes at a time when poachers upped the game recently and killed 15 elephants and dozens of other game and birds such as vultures which are on the extinction red list.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said the poachers ran well-coordinated syndicates that included foreign gangs working in cahoots with local people who earned a few dollars out of poaching.
Some errant game rangers were also colluding with poachers to kill animals, thereby complicating matters.
In fact, information from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZNPWMA) shows that five game rangers were arrested in connection with the poisoning of 11 elephants by cyanide last week.
Poachers are principally using the lethal chemical and heavy ammunition to kill the animals.
They also turn guns on ZNPWMA rangers when confronted, turning the normally serene animal sanctuaries into battlefields.
Six elephants were found dead with their tusks removed on September 26 in Hwange National Park, where rangers also stumbled upon five more elephant carcasses less than a week later.
Openly admitting to the incapacity of ZNPWMA to handle the situation, Muchinguri-Kasiri said the carcasses were discovered about a fortnight after the elephants were killed, their tasks already hacked off.
Four more elephant carcasses were discovered in Kariba during the same period, suggesting the incidents could be well-coordinated.
In Hwange, reports were that several vultures that fed on the poisoned elephants also died.
But even as Muchinguri-Kashiri was bemoaning the ruthless attack on the country’s resources, poachers were busy poisoning watering holes at a wildlife conservancy in Nyamandlovu, Matabeleland North province.
The poison killed a cheetah – one of the world’s rarest animals – zebras, wild pigs and hundreds of birds.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said unless government received manpower support and machinery, poachers would continue to decimate the country’s wildlife and even ZNPWMA rangers who engaged in daily and often deadly armed combat with poachers.
“To show you how grave the situation is, we killed 22 poachers this year alone in combat action with ZimParks rangers. Police arrested 900 others,” she said.
Sixteen of the 22 poachers were locals, while eight of those gunned down were foreigners.
Those arrested included 876 locals and 44 foreigners.
While the figures seemed to point to some hard work on the part of rangers, Muchinguri-Kashiri suggested that they served to indicate the gravity of the matter.
“This means poaching is rising in the country and with the current number of rangers and the equipment they use, we are losing the war,” she said.
“We are moving to embrace the use to technology like drones and aircraft to combat poaching and we are appealing to the private sector as well as the international community to assist us in terms of that.”
Last year, government formed a conservation taskforce to mobilise resources to help fight poachers following the killing, also by cyanide, of over 300 elephants and hundreds of other animals.
The taskforce managed to donate some Land Rover trucks to ZNPWMA to improve patrol but poachers continue to outsmart them.
Elephants and rhinos are prime targets for poachers for their valuable tusks and horns that fetch huge prices on the international market.
Fly-by-night prophets were also reportedly fuelling the extinction of vultures by asking clients to bring the highly endangered birds to end misfortunes.
Conservationists have called for stricter measures to control the availability of cyanide to curb its use in the poisoning of animals.
Cynide can kill both the primary target and secondary scavenging predators such as vultures and hyenas.
For example, in the Hwange incident of nearly two years ago, after the elephants died, predators such as lions, hyenas and vultures which fed on their carcasses also perished while other animals like kudus and buffaloes that shared the same waterholes also died.
Muchinguri-Kashiri also called for stiffer penalties on offenders, saying this would go a long way in preventing wildlife crimes.