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Increase in number of poachers arrested in Zimbabwe as slaughter continues

Poisoned elephants in Zimbabwe.A South African, 31 Zambians and seven Mozambicans were among 443 people arrested in Zimbabwe in 2016 for poaching, the national parks authority has said.

In a summary of anti-poaching activities for 2016, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said there was an increase on arrests last year compared to 2015 when 317 were arrested.

She said on 10 January that, “The year 2016 witnessed an increase in the number of wildlife cases that were concluded, resulting in at least 513 years being passed for mandatory nine year sentences for wildlife crime compared to 414 years in 2015. The increase has been attributed to the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority's successful efforts in lobbying for the passing of the law which provides for such deterrent sentences by our courts.”

A crime analysis report for 2016 shows that 211 poaching cases were investigated and 116 were finalised. In 2015, 203 cases were investigated and 111 were finalised, she said.

Seventy six tusks were recovered, down from 204 in 2015, and 179 ivory pieces were recovered compared to 325 recovered in 2015. Eight pangolin trophies were recovered last year up from five in 2015. Also recovered were 36 live pangolins last year, a slight increase from 34 in 2015. Anti-poaching teams also seized 22 guns last year as well as at least 5 613 kilogrammes of abalone.

Washaya-Moyo said locals, who constitute a majority of those arrested for poaching, are working mainly with colleagues from Zambia as well as Mozambique, targeting wildlife sanctuaries in the north-west and south-east of the country.

“Mozambican poaching groups target Gonarezhou National Park and Save Valley Conservancy, where they poach elephants. It has now emerged that most of the poaching taking place inland is being perpetrated by syndicate members of different groups, who are hired to form one larger organised gang,” Washaya-Moyo said.

However, the introduction of modern anti-poaching strategies, such as sniffer and tracker dogs as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) she said, is likely to help boost anti-poaching activities. In September last year South Africa’s UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) provided UAVs to Zimbabwe. The technology was deployed to Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game park, to fight elephant and other wildlife poaching. Between 2013 and last year, poaching syndicates killed at least 300 elephants through cyanide poisoning in the park. “This silent poaching method has serious effects to the eco-system and is a potential threat to human life,” she said.

ZimParks released the 2016 report in a week it also announced the shooting to death of three suspected poachers in Hwange National Park and Hurungwe near Lake Kariba. Two were killed on 10 January in Hwange while one, believed to be a Zambian, was shot dead in Hurungwe on 11 January.

Zimbabwean wildlife, like South Africa’s, is under threat from well organised poaching syndicates. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs announced in January last year that 1,175 rhinos were poached in 2015, 40 fewer than in the previous year, the first drop in cases since 2008.

The decline appears to be holding, as the latest official figures released in September last year showed that 702 rhinos had been illegally hunted between January and July, from 796 in 2015. Kruger National Park, recorded the highest killings - 458 rhinos between January and August. This, however, was a decrease from 557 a year earlier.

The Department of Environmental Affairs reported that by mid-September 2016 36 elephants had been poached in the Kruger National Park since January while 414 alleged poachers had been arrested nationally since January.

However, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reported a dramatic increase in poaching in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016, with 159 rhinos poached there. October and November in particular showed major increases. By early November 2016, the Mercury newspaper reported that 132 rhinos had been killed in KwaZulu-Natal in 2016.

A Zimbabwean safari operator, Langton Masunda, blamed recurrent droughts, a difficult local economy and global restrictions in lion and elephant hunting for the high poaching cases in the country.

“Without money coming from hunting, communities derive little value from wildlife and when that happens they are tempted to poach. The economic conditions are pushing some to poach as well. So poaching at those low levels then escalate into wider scale and more organised poaching activities,” he said.

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