By Andrew Kunambura
Government is losing the war on poaching owing to lack of sufficient personnel and equipment to deal with the menace. Environment, Water and Climate Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, told Parliament last week that poachers were getting more advanced, as some of them were now using sophisticated methods and weaponry to kill dozens of endangered wildlife species, including elephants and rhinos. He said this while responding to a question posed by Nkulumane legislator, Thamsanga Mahlangu, who wanted to know what measures government was employing to combat poaching during the parliamentary question time.
In his response, Kasukuwere said government was aware of the high rate of killing of animals in the game reserves by poachers using complex methods, adding that efforts to curb the crime were being hampered by lack of both personnel and equipment. In addition to cyanide poisoning, poachers are also using helicopters and sophisticated weapons to mow down animals. “We continue receiving information that poachers are wreaking havoc in wildlife sanctuaries. We are trying our best to contain the situation. Our efforts are being hampered by the shortage of manpower and equipment given that these poachers are using more and more sophisticated methods,” he said.
“The (Zimbabwe Conservation) taskforce, which we set up is mobilising as much resources as possible to help fight the poachers. Both the government and the corporate world are coming together to help contain the situation. The Environmental Management Agency is also assisting us with investigations. We are using helicopters to track them down and we are also working with the Zimbabwe Republic Police and other forces.
“We hope that in the near future, we will be able to use more modern methods of fighting them such as satellite tracking and radio communication. We are also in talks with other countries in the southern African region to establish cross boarder collaborations because poaching is affecting many other countries as well,” Kasukuwere said.
Elephants and rhinos have been the prime target for poachers for their valuable horns that fetch huge prices on the international market. Late last year, poachers sparked an international outcry after killing over 300 elephants by lacing waterholes and salt licks with cyanide in the giant Hwange National Park. Despite reacting swiftly to the reports of wildlife poisoning, poaching has not stopped as more animals are dying from cyanide poisoning and other intricate methods employed by the poachers.
The full extent of the damage to Hwange National Park, the country’s largest animal sanctuary, is still to be assessed. Conservationists have however, described the recent developments in the park as the worst single wildlife massacre in southern Africa for 25 years. After the elephants died, predators such as lions, hyenas and vultures which fed on their carcasses also perished while other animals like the kudu and buffalo that shared the same waterholes also died, collapsing at short distances from the holes and licks.
Rare wildlife species are at risk of extinction. For example, Zimbabwe has an estimated 800 black rhinos left after poachers killed more than 1 500 in the last two decades. The rest of the African continent has an estimated 2 400 black rhinos, down from about 65 000 in the mid-1980s. Stakeholders have also called for stiffer penalties for offenders. Eight of the people found guilty of last year’s poisoning of elephants were slapped with effective 16-year jail terms; a punishment many thought was not deterrent enough.