Impose stiffer penalties on wildlife poachers

RECENT reports of elephant poaching in the Hwange National Park and other wildlife conservation centres make very sad reading, especially when viewed against the background of the slaying of Cecil the lion.

Sometime in 2013, over 100 elephants died of suspected cyanide poisoning in the country’s biggest animal sanctuary at Hwange.

Recently, over 60 jumbos were found dead, again from suspected cyanide poisoning. Zimbabwe prides itself with the wealth of its flora and fauna. Visitors to the country enjoy seeing the wildlife — undoubtedly one of Zimbabwe’s biggest attractions.

We believe authorities must come down hard on poachers through the imposition of stiffer penalties for those convicted of the offence.

Perhaps what is also disturbing is that a well-organised syndicate is responsible for the heinous crimes.  About two decades ago, the black rhino faced the same threat that elephants are facing today.

Perpetrators of the dastardly acts do it for the money the jumbo tusks and rhino horns fetch. Poaching has to be approached as an emergency before the country’s entire elephant population is wiped out. Given the rate at which the killings have been happening, there is need for concerted efforts from all stakeholders in finding a solution to these regressive acts.
The killings have become indiscriminate. Obviously, the motivating factor is greed. They are not doing it because they want meat but they kill the jumbos for their tusks, which have a lucrative market in Asia — seen as a hub for traffickers of all endangered animal species.

While the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) has acknowledged the suspected cyanide poisoning, what is more worrying is the fact that many other animals living in the wild may have been affected by the poison that targeted elephants.

It is for this reason that we feel investigations into the barbaric butchering must spread far and wide, starting of course with probes within Zimparks with the aim of bringing anyone complicit in these acts to book. Those found guilty must face the music.
Perhaps it is also time that the Justice ministry revisits the sentences for poaching. These must be made deterrent enough to scare off would be offenders.

The lawlessness currently taking place in our national parks must be nipped as a matter of urgency. Perpetrators must be brought to book so that the country does not compromise its once vibrant tourism sector.

Zimbabwe’s tourism sector has remained one of the few that have continued to tread the developmental trajectory with the rest of industry choking from the obtaining liquidity crunch.
If authorities do not act fast to arrest this wanton butchering of elephants and other endangered animal species that have spurred tourist visits to Hwange, Gonarezhou national parks and other major wildlife conservancies, we feel there is a real risk that the country may lose one of its major pull factors.

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