By Alex Bell
Zimbabwe's wildlife authorities have been urged to keep strengthening the country's anti-poaching laws, if the problem is ever to be eradicated.
The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has announced new laws that impose stiffer penalties for people found guilty of poaching protected species. The Authority's public relations manager, Caroline Washaya-Moyo, said the new laws would affect those who kill any protected animals gazetted by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management. This includes rhino and elephant.
"Any person who is convicted for unlawful killing of a rhinoceros or elephant is expected to be sentenced to nine years for a first offender or eleven years for a second or subsequent offender," she said.
Poaching has been rife in Zimbabwe for years, and conservation groups have been calling for a stronger reaction from the authorities in an attempt to stamp out the problem.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the new laws are a "beginning," but a lot more needs to be done.
"I do think the penalties are quite lenient and I think they should be much tougher. But the problem is that poaching will continue because it is so lucrative," Rodrigues explained.
He said the problem will not be solved by arresting individual poachers, because they are often "doing the dirty work" for large syndicates. He said that these syndicates are taking advantage of Zimbabwe's poor economic climate, where unemployment is rife.
"These syndicates are hiring just a normal person to do the actual poaching and paying them peanuts. And these are the guys that then get arrested. So it's very hard to bring the actual perpetrators to book," Rodrigues said.
He also explained that while tougher laws are welcome, "there is no body policing or enforcing the laws."
"Who is enforcing any of the laws that exist now? It is very serious and there is a lot of work to be done," Rodrigues said.