Poachers devise new tricks to evade detection

by The Standard (Chipo Masara)
(28 August 2011)

From fresh reports of illegal hunting in Zimbabwe, it would appear as though the poachers are adamant on wiping out all wildlife and as long as the authorities, whose job is to protect the natural resource neglect to fulfil their mandate, the country’s wildlife will surely continue to diminish.

Not so long ago, the media carried reports of Chinese nationals in Mushumbi, a remote previously wildlife-rich area in the Lower Guruve District, who were allegedly poisoning elephants in the area for their tusks.

We also recently received reports from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), that illegal hunters in the Charara area of Kariba have come up with a plan to try and prevent the authorities from discovering their activities.

It has come to their attention that when they shoot an animal, vultures circling in the sky above have been giving them away. So in order to avoid detection, they are now shooting animals and spraying them with a poison such as DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — a deadly synthetic pesticide).
When the vultures feed off the carcass, they die from the poison, hence reducing the number of vultures available to give them away.

From such reports, it is clear that poaching is not going anywhere anytime soon as the illegal hunters have evidently upped their game in their relentless bid to self-enrich at the expense of the country’s wildlife and overall ecological balance.

Poachers are mainly targeting the rhinoceros and the elephants for the ivory and reports show that if the poaching continues at the current pace, the rhinoceros will especially become extinct, and soon. Already there are very few left.

There are no exact statistics to show how much wildlife Zimbabwe still has as the Ministry of Environment and Human Resources Management and the department of National Parks have not conducted an audit that would take stock of the animals.

Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman for ZCTF, a non-profit organisation that strives to save the country’s wildlife, said the Environment ministry has not carried out audits because it is fully aware that the country has been cleared of most of its wildlife, partly for the pot but mostly for the ivory and skin.
Rodrigues insisted the estimated figures that the responsible authorities are currently basing their strategies and policies on are not a true reflection of the situation on the ground.

The ZCTF website says more than 90% of the game in private game ranches has been lost to poachers and illegal hunters in the past five years.
One only has to travel to a place like Gonarezhou National Park that was previously infested with elephants, to tell that the wildlife numbers have drastically depleted, said Rodrigues.

The problem would not have been so grave were it not for the get-rich-quick attitude that seems to have pervaded Zimbabwe. Curbing the gruesome practice would be easier if more people were willing to put the country’s wildlife ahead of personal gain.

The arrests of poachers are rare instances and reports of some police officers that are allegedly working in cahoots with the poachers are rife.
It is therefore of paramount importance that the responsible ministry puts proper measures in place that will transmit in a clear manner the message that poaching will not be tolerated. Those that are caught on the wrong side of the law must be dealt with accordingly.

Considering the rate of poaching in Zimbabwe, curbing the practice will take a lot more than just occasional public rebuke as the class of poachers that we are dealing with now requires smarter and sterner measures.

Wildlife is a major part of Zimbabwe and has since time immemorial added to the country’s appeal, which at one time made it a worthy destination for many tourists.

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