Police in Victoria Falls killed two alleged poachers on Monday, sparking outrage among residents who insisted the men were actually "innocent locals" fetching wood in the bush to make curios for tourists.
The officer commanding Victoria Falls district, Chief Superintendent Jairos Chiona, said they suspected the two, Christopher Muleya, 41, and Isaiah Sibanda, of being poachers after they opened fire on a team of game rangers and police.
"I can confirm that two men were shot during a shootout with officers from Parks and police who were on patrol. There were signs of poaching activities and investigations led to some poachers who then opened fire," Chief Supt Chiona said.
The incident occurred on Monday morning in the Zambezi National Park at Luinga Springs.
Muleya and Sibanda died on the spot and their bodies were taken to a local hospital mortuary where a post-mortem was waived.
A joint patrol team of police and game rangers moved into the area after a carcass of an elephant was found on August 23.
After hearing gunshots on Sunday night, the team tracked down the footprints on Monday morning resulting in the shootout, police said.
However, residents who spoke on condition of anonymity said the police had cooked up the poaching story after they 'carelessly' shot unarmed individuals.
"It is not true that these people were poachers. People always go to that area for other activities like fishing and to fetch firewood," said a local resident.
"We know they had gone to get wood for their curios when they were shot and if they were poachers and opened fire on police they should show the cartridges that were used because they should be different."