By Tichaona Sibanda
SW Radio Africa
4 October 2013
Conservation groups in the country have called upon the government to investigate the possible links of politicians and influential businessmen to an international ivory smuggling ring operating in Zimbabwe.
Johnny Rodrigues, the head of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said the recent discovery of over 100 elephant carcasses killed by cyanide in Hwange national park shows that there is a sophisticated group of people involved in poaching.
If Zimbabwe does not find long term solutions to stop poaching, the country’s ecological system will be severely compromised, explained Rodrigues.
He told SW Radio Africa on Friday that cyanide is a controlled substance that cannot be bought without producing a gold mine permit.
The deadly substance is acutely toxic to humans, animals and birds and is mostly used in mining operations. In the last five years, the ruling ZANU PF party gave a number of its top officials mining licenses, under the empowerment and indigenization program.
It is also known that a number of senior army, police and CIO officers have mining rights in the some of the districts of Matabeleland North. Hwange national park falls under Mat north province and shares a border with Tsholotsho, Lupane, Gwai and Dete. Numerous gold mines are dotted across these areas.
Rodrigues said while blame for the poaching has been laid on the villagers, some of whom have been arrested and sentenced, he believes the ‘big fish’ are ‘still out there roaming freely.’
‘I don’t believe these villagers just woke up and walked into a chemical place and bought cyanide without producing the required documentation. Somebody is supplying them and those with permits should be asked to account for the cyanide they bought in the last couple of months,’ he said.
Rodrigues said the newly appointed Environment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, has revealed that 240 kg of cyanide has been recovered from villagers in Tsholotsho and lately Ngamo, but Rodrigues said he believes more than half a tonne of cyanide is floating around the districts.
‘This is why we want a proper and professionally done investigation to get to the bottom of this because poaching has gone out of control in Zimbabwe,’ he added.
Our Bulawayo correspondent Lionel Saungweme said government has a list of all mining operations in areas near Hwange and all they needed to do is check if the cyanide purchased by the miners has all gone into mining operations.
He said through proper investigations government could manage to unravel a network of people involved in the illegal ivory trade in the country, if the political will existed.
Ivory and horns from elephant’s and rhinos are shipped out using illegal routes along the porous South African and Mozambican borders. Some of the ivory from Zimbabwe has been intercepted at international airports abroad.
Earlier this year a Chinese national managed to smuggle 500kg of ivory to his homeland but the contraband was detected on arrival at Beijing International Airport.
Last year, Dutch customs police seized a shipment of elephant body parts from Zimbabwe, including 22 feet, eight tusks, eight ears, three tails, a skull and an entire hide. The cargo, originating from Harare and bound for Germany, was halted at Schiphol airport without proper licenses.
Saungweme told us that high prices for wildlife products on the black market in the Far East and other Asian nations are encouraging even more people to engage in poaching. Elephant tusks and teeth are used for making jewellery, carvings, sculptures, piano keys, enamel plates and billiard balls, while rhino horn is used in Asian traditional medicine.