The Zimbabwean government has deployed the army to crack down on poaching in all game reserves following the slaughter of more than 62 elephants by poachers who used cyanide to poison water sources and salt licks.
Addressing a press conference in the capital Harare on Wednesday, Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said the units from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) have joined the police, game rangers and the intelligence services in a nationwide crackdown on poaching syndicates responsible for poisoning elephants.
“We had to gather soldiers and intelligence patrols towards the national duty against poaching and we have also increased on the police force that was deployed to national parks.
“We are not experiencing war in the country, hence we can rightfully take advantage of that situation and deploy these troops to several national parks. We have been in and out of consultative meetings with the armed forces and they are responding positively to this call for national duty,” she said.
The army is being deployed together with aerial platforms which include helicopters and drones to monitor the poaching crisis in Hwange, Mana pools, Gonarezhou, Matusadona and Chizarira national parks.
Muchinguri-Kashiri said only military involvement can curb the poaching crisis as ongoing investigations have shown that some game rangers and police officers are working with the poaching and ivory trafficking syndicates.
She said poachers have moved out of Hwange and are now operating in the other national parks following the launch of a security crackdown on cyanide poaching syndicates which killed 62 elephants in Hwange last month.
The minister said she has since held consultative meetings with game rangers to understand why they are failing to prevent poaching and learnt that poor salaries and the deplorable working conditions are forcing some rangers into poaching and ivory trafficking.
Apart from unpaid allowances, game rangers deployed to remote work stations in the game parks face water shortages and lack adequate clinics, schools and the necessary logistics, firepower and equipment to fight sophisticated trans-national poaching syndicates operating in the parks.
In July this year, the Chinese government donated equipment worth US$2.3 million to support the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s anti-poaching efforts in Hwange.