Ex-mayor caught with ivory as elephant poaching plummets in Zim

Former Vic Falls mayor and others arrested as poaching plummets in parks

10 March 2019 - 00:00 By NOKUTHABA DLAMINI

Elephant poaching is on the decline as park authorities crack down on poaching activities in Zimbabwe's largest game reserve, in Hwange.
Last year only 25 elephant deaths were recorded, a significant drop from the 706 killings recorded between 2013 and 2017.
News of the decline comes after Friday's arrest of former Victoria Falls mayor Sifiso Mpofu. He was found in possession of 11 elephant tusks weighing a total of 120kg - suspected by national parks authorities to have come from poaching activities.
Mpofu, a Zanu-PF member, is related to Obert Mpofu, the Zanu-PF secretary for administration. He is in police custody with two accomplices, who were found armed during an early-morning raid at his home in Mkhosana, a high-density suburb in the resort town.
According to the latest statistics from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), there has been a decline in elephant poaching countrywide and in particular in Hwange National Park, once a hot spot for poaching syndicates.
Zimparks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo on Friday said the crackdown against poachers was the result of the "shoot to kill" policy adopted by the government last year
At the peak of poaching activities in national parks in the Victoria Falls and Hwange areas between 2013 and 2017, 706 elephant deaths were recorded by parks authorities. Of these, 589 were poisoned by cyanide and 107 shot.
In 2018, 10 elephants were poisoned and 15 shot dead by poachers.
Elephant tusks are in huge demand, especially in Asian countries where they are used for medicinal purposes and as artifacts.
"We have busted most of the syndicate, but we are saying to these poachers ... we are going to fight to ensure that we protect our God-given natural resources for the benefit of all Zimbabweans," said Farawo.
"Our message is clear that national parks are no-go areas for poachers and they will be shot without hesitation."
Trevor Lane, a conservationist from the Bhejane Trust, said an increase in jail terms and conviction rates was also behind the decline in elephant poaching.
"You can notice the big decline from 2013 to last year," said Lane. "There has also been a high success rate on convictions. For the period 2013 to 2018, a total of 287 people were sentenced to a combined total of 3,175 years' imprisonment, with most of them still in jail."
Lane said the national parks investigations unit was largely responsible for this outstanding achievement, working in conjunction with other government agencies and assisted by Save the African Rhino Foundation, the Tikki Hywood Trust and the Bhejane Trust.
"All are well aware that there is no room for complacency, especially in view of the prevailing economic situation, and we rely on parks investigations to carry on this exemplary work in 2019 and we will continue to support them," said Lane.
Zimbabwe is home to the second-largest elephant population in the world - about 84,000 of the animals - after Botswana.
The African Wildlife Foundation said the decimation of the elephant population between 2001 and 2014 had resulted in a 36% decline in elephant numbers.
"This significant decrease in the population is a strong indicator that this area has become a hub for elephant poaching. If poaching for illegal ivory continues at this rate, then elephants in this landscape will be decimated within the next three decades," the organisation said.
Farawo on Friday confirmed Mpofu's arrest.
"We can confirm that the former mayor of Victoria Falls and two others have been arrested after they were found with 11 pieces of fresh ivory, weighing about 120kg," he said.
"They are in police custody and are expected to appear in court soon."
Farawo said the organisation "received a tip-off from members of the community and we followed up to where he was arrested in his house".
"We recovered a loaded pistol and they were trying to shoot at our officers and that is why they [police] fired one warning shot."
Mpofu's legal representative, Thulani Nkala of Dube and Nkala Partners, confirmed his client was in police custody but could not provide further details.
Mpofu said: "I am very well and I have no complaints with regards to my arrest. For now I am still with the police, but I haven't been given an update on my court appearance."
State prosecutor Onias Nyathi said the tusks illegally found in Mpofu's possession had an estimated minimum value of $30,000.
"A kilogram costs approximately $250, minimum charge. So that takes us to $30,000 when multiplied by the 120kg of tusks seized," said Nyathi...

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