Poaching — a dilemma even if you don’t care

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Game poaching has exploded in recent years, endangering some of the most magnificent beasts of our country. Could the problem be much more than an animal problem or a threat to humanity?

Opinion by Wisdom Mdzungairi

Poaching networks threatening the stability and security of countless countries among them Kenya, Cameroon, DR Congo, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa Zimbabwe.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a global environmental conservation organisation, presented a study at a United Nations briefing mid-last month hoping to convince government officials to take poaching more seriously.

It might be a tough sell. For those who make political or humanitarian issues their bread and butter, it’s easy to brush off environmental causes. Why focus on plants and animals when so many humans are fighting, starving and suffering — they might ask?

Already, there are reports that Zimbabwe could face a future without any rhinoceros, if urgent measures to tackle poaching are not implemented. This followed the killing of four white rhinos at Thetford Estate in Mazowe reportedly owned by businessman John Bredenkamp. This is not a good sign at all given the endangered species were butchered on New Year’s Day.

Thetford Estate — a 1 300-hectare holding in the Mazowe Valley — is a registered conservancy, breeding a variety of wildlife species. In March 2002 the farm was listed again and war vets reportedly disrupted operations, in what was widely believed to be a deliberate attempt to “punish” Bredenkamp for siding with Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa’s succession campaign.

That aside, conservationist Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, says poaching in the country is “disgusting”, and one that was likely to get worse.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said apart from the four rhinos killed last year Zimbabwe lost 19 black and white rhinos to poachers. Neighbouring South Africa lost an unprecedented 633 rhino in the same year. While our rhino poaching statistics are not yet as bad as South Africa’s, it is still a serious problem given we don’t even have that many rhino left in Zimbabwe. If we don’t put the measures in place now, the animals will be extinct in the next couple years.

The environmentalist movement, Environment Africa, then led by Charlene Hewat, had its heyday during the 1980s campaigning against rhino poaching along the Zambezi River forcing government to create Intensive Protection Zones (IPZs), anti-poaching units and the subsequent banning of ivory trade in 1989.

But the fervour has since waned, and today’s environmentalists are often grouped as animal enthusiasts, botanical aficionados or tree-hugging hippies. No surprise, then, their wildlife conservation initiatives are often a low priority for policymakers, which is what was discovered by WWF in its recent report.

For instance, in neighbouring South Africa, where growing demand for rhinoceros horns in Asia has led to a poaching spree, hundreds of rhinos have been killed over the past year, and 90% of the entire rhino population has been decimated within the past half century.

Although Zimparks, especially under then Environment ministers Victoria Chitepo, Simon Khaya Moyo and currently Francis Nhema, has been acknowledged for a job well done in encouraging conservation in general and virtually eliminating rhino poaching, it is time Zimbabweans themselves knew the importance of wildlife in our country. It is not only about our geographical aesthetics but, it is also about attracting tourists, one of the biggest income generators in the country.

A solution needs to be found, and while it is a vexatious and difficult issue, Nhema needs to do his part to at least try to push for an elite force to deal with poaching. Also the justice system should appreciate the gravity of wildlife crimes. It must be made tougher for poachers – to send a clear message that it’s not allowed while preserving endangered species. Arresting and charging the perpetrators, in itself is not going to solve the problem, but there is need to find out just who is behind the poaching and inducing poaching by offering large sums of money for the rhino horn. This applies not only to rhino, but also the elephant for its ivory.

Ironically, this industry is no longer entirely dominated by whites to be precise, but also by black elites who are threatening our wildlife and by extension tourism and ultimately employment creation as well.
The Environment ministry is therefore a key government arm than many may think, and it is hoped Nhema will consolidate his efforts to stamp out poaching by making conservation a priority, and expose those forces behind the poaching of protected species.

Our hope is that Zimbabwe’s emphatic response to this latest threat will be enough to dissuade poaching gangs from crossing into their territory.

It is also worrying as we now find a cataclysmic depredation of landscapes and the wildlife that depends on forests that has sustained unparalleled biodiversity.

  • millenniumzimbabwe@yahoo.com/twitter.com/wisdomdzungairi

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