China blamed for increase in poaching

31 July 2011 - 05:39 By VLADIMIR MZACA
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The Chinese, political decisions and a growing black market are being blamed for the rise in elephant and rhino poaching.

Last week 10 people were arrested for poaching and unlawful possession of elephant tusks and rhino horns that they were suspected of selling to buyers from China.

The suspects, who included four former soldiers and four farmers, were arrested in two separate operations.

In the first operation, six suspects were found with two fresh rhino horns. In the other sting, two people were arrested while trying to sell four elephant tusks in Harare.

Both groups had allegedly approached a Chinese businessman to buy the horns.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said: "Poaching is on the increase and we have to nip it in the bud. Anyone who knows about illegal trade in rhino horns or poaching should approach us."

A game ranger in the Eastern Highlands said: "Some of the poachers are army deserters with access to firearms and are using their skills. You cannot easily catch them in action because when they come across rangers they open fire. They can more easily be nabbed in their civilian lives when they try to sell their loot."

Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe says reserves in the south-east lowveld are under serious threat, including the Gonarezhou National Park, the Manjinji Bird Sanctuary, the Chipinge and Malapati safari areas, Bubiana conservancies, Chiredzi River, Save Valley and Malilangwe reserve.

These areas are part of the Limpopo Transfrontier Park which stretches from Zimbabwe to neighbouring SA's northern province and Mozambique. One of the biggest poachers in SA is said to be a key supplier of rhino horns to a ruthless south-east-Asian syndicate. He allegedly stood to make at least R16-million in just 13 weeks this year by supplying 50 rhino horns to a Laotian company fronting for the syndicate.

Johnny Rodriguez, of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, blamed the escalating poaching on the sudden influx of miners and investors from China. "China is the biggest market for rhino horns and the money is quick. So what these Chinese that come to Zimbabwe on other business do is engage in illegal trade - and we actually have it on record that there are some who are even using their own methods of poaching that do not involve guns," he said.

Some miners who were in the country recently to prospect for uranium in the north had poisoned elephants, Rodriguez claimed. "What they have been doing is leaving poisoned loaves of bread in the bush. I can safely say nine elephants were killed at the Mushumbi Pools."

Recently Vitalis Chadenga , the director-general of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife, told a parliamentary portfolio committee on natural resources that land redistribution had greatly affected anti-poaching efforts. "We find people being given land to engage in agrarian activities in wildlife areas."

Land redistribution was political as it has been done along party lines. One example was the resettlement of people at Gonarezhou National Park area - home to one of the biggest herds of elephant - where animals have been killed for food, the people's safety and to make money.

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