By Thulani Mpofu
Organised syndicates of poachers are killing wildlife in Zimbabwe's animal parks - some species to near extinction - a situation that worries conservationists and tourism operators. Armed with assualt rifles, hi-tech communication and spying equipment, commercial poachers mainly target elephants and rhinos for their horns, and giraffe and zebra for their skins. Poor subsistence poachers who are mostly locals use wire snares to capture plains game for meat.
At Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, 25km east of here, where dozens of abandoned, orphaned and sick animals are kept, all the rhinos have been poached. Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce, said poverty, greed and a breakdown in law and order are driving illegal hunting. Zimbabwe had about 1,000 rhinos 20 years ago, he said, but only 400 of the endangered species are left, after most of them had been poached.
"The problem is big and the losses are far higher than the US$5 million [Dh18.3m\ given by the government. "Nobody is policing people in high places who are running the highly organised poaching rackets. They say the army and police have been engaged to fight poachers, but soldiers are also poorly paid and are actually poaching." In June, the government said $5m in potential revenue had been lost to poaching since January.
Areas hardest hit by rhino poachers are Lake Chivero, near Harare, and parks in the central, western and south-eastern parts of the country. Rhino horns and elephant tusks are smuggled to South Africa, Europe and China, while zebra and giraffe skins are sold in South Africa. Rhino horns are used to make medicine and aphrodisiacs in Asia. In the Middle East they are used to make handles for ceremonial daggers. More....