Last September, Zimbabwe suffered from the biggest elephant poaching spree ever. The San people engaged in poaching poisoned water sources, leaving 100 elephants dead, a number that is still on the rise. The San are hunters-gatherers living in the Tsholotsho District, deep in the heart of Matabeleland North Province in the west of the country. Now that the government vows to clamp down on poaching, their livelihood is in danger. The elephants’ ivory tusks are worth as much as 93,000 euro for a set of two. Ivory is especially in demand in Asia.
This is the story of Mtoliki Ndlovu (not his real name), a member of the San community, as told to reporter Nhlalo Ndaba.
In the past few months the San have been under scrutiny because of the increased number of poaching incidents in the area. Traditionally, we are a hunting community. For years we have been sidelined from the mainstream economy, because most of us are uneducated and poor.
We have tried to diversify to farming, but the climate just isn’t good for crops. All this has caused us to be recruited by poaching syndicates. It wasn’t out of greed though, but out of need.
In the past few years, poaching has been made easy because the game rangers have stopped patrolling the area. Also, elephants started to stray into villages and even destroyed the few crops we managed to grow. Us not liking the elephants, as well as the opportunity to make a quick buck with low risk of getting caught, made us become poachers.
People from the city offer us money. They do this because they know we are poor, we know the area and the security situation well, we need food and of course we love meat.
Watering holes poisoned with cyanide
I had to take salt laced with cyanide to the elephant watering holes. Each time they paid me 700 US dollars (515 euros), which is enough to take care of my family's needs for about two months. I had to do it or my family would have starved and I couldn’t have sent my children to school – I never went to school myself.
Things went wrong when the poaching syndicates became too greedy. They wanted us to kill as many elephants as we could. More....