By Tererai Karimakwenda
Four dead elephants were discovered by rangers in the Zambezi National Park earlier this week, and preliminary tests have confirmed that they were victims of cyanide poisoning by suspected poachers.
The incident has renewed fears that more animals may suffer the same fate, a year after 100 elephants died in similar circumstances involving salt licks laced with the toxic cyanide in Hwange National Park. More than 14 villagers, mostly from Tsholotsho, were arrested and sentenced in that incident.
Officials from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) said they found a natural salt lick laced with cyanide in the park, just outside Victoria Falls and along the Zambezi River. A cape turtle dove, a vulture and a sand grouse were also found dead this week.
According to the state run Chronicle newspaper, there are suspicions that poachers from Zambia, who can access the Zambezi National Park on the Zimbabwe side, were responsible for this latest poisoning in a bid to kill the elephants for their ivory.
But Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said he believes the culprits are much closer to home and have links to powerful chefs who profit from the ivory.
“Our house is not in order. This is the issue and I believe that there is some big wig involved due to the fact that ready money is here from certain individuals from the Far East,” Rodrigues told SW Radio Africa.
He added that there are many Chinese nationals who were given mining contracts in the Hwange area, which is near Victoria Falls, and they have links that can ship contraband via Vietnam to China. Cyanide is commonly used in the small scale gold mining process.
“There is some tycoon that we suspect who is behind this thing up there and too many people are scared to move against him because he is a very wealthy man and I believe he operates one of the biggest syndicates in Zimbabwe anyway.”
Rodrigues said the top guys speak of a policy in place to protect wildlife but there is no-one policing the areas and no-one making sure that it is implemented.
According to the Chronicle newspaper, Zimparks spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo confirmed the deaths and the cyanide poisoning, adding that the police and Environmental Management Agency had worked with a veterinary doctor from the Wildlife Trust in investigating the incident.
Washaya-Moyo is quoted as saying ground and air patrols have been put in place around the area as investigations continue. Samples from the poisoned animals have been sent to Harare for further analysis.