Emslie also told the three governments why the rhino conservation lobby was deeply concerned about the ongoing butchery: “Although good biological management and anti-poaching efforts have led to modest population-gains for both black and white African rhino, we are still very concerned about the increasing involvement of organised criminal poaching networks, and that unless the rapid escalation in poaching in recent years can be halted, continental rhino numbers could once again start to decline.”
At a local level, we are now concerned that unlike South Africa and Kenya, which took the advice of the experts and turned the tide against rhino poaching, the Zimbabwean government is not doing anything to save this endangered species. We do not understand why the government has not taken robust action to crackdown on the Harare-based, Chinese-sponsored syndicates which are responsible for rhino plunder in conservancies around the country. However, we fear that this is because top government and “party” officials are implicated, as are members of various arms of the security forces.
This has been proven in many court cases where poachers have turned out to be serving or retired troopers. Some ministers and top Zanu PF politicians have also been named in various reports as the prime suspects behind many poaching syndicates.
With the rhino horn selling for as much as US$60 000 per kg on the black market, it is not difficult to understand why greedy politicians can’t avoid spilling rhino blood to shorten their route to riches.
We are even more concerned that despite numerous cases where evidence of the complicity of members of the security forces is presented in court, there seems to be no institutional measures taken to weed out poachers from among their ranks. The rhino conservation lobby is also disturbed by government in-action against the continued use of state-owned firearms in poaching. The AK-47 rifles and heavy machine guns which poachers use to kill rhinos are defined as arms of war in this country and as such, they are not sold in any gunshop but are owned by government, and issued only to the security forces.
So we maintain that poachers source these high-calibre assault rifles from the national security armoury. Recently, parks-director Vitalis Chadenga told a collection of local, German and British “environmental” journalists that the poaching scourge is the work of foreign syndicates. True and well said, but Zimbabweans also know that foreigners operate here with local help and enjoy protection from “party” politicians, rogue elements of the security forces, parks officials and even provincial magistrates (as in one district of Matabeleland North) who are part of the syndicates.
There is no doubt that foreigners —South Africans, Russians, Chinese, Americans, the British and the French — are deeply involved. But the Gwayi Valley Hunting Report of 2003 which mentions these nationalities also shines a brighter light on many local politicians who colluded with the foreigners in poaching all over that Intensive Conservation Area between 2000 and 2003.
Our fear is that the poaching crisis will escalate because Zanu PF officials, securocrats and their Chinese benefactors are too deeply involved. There is also a clear lack of political will to stop it in both factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) because species conservation does not seem to have a place on their agendas.
The Parks and Wildlife Management Authority claims that the country has over 1 000 rhinos but we find this very difficult to believe because authority has no history of accuracy with figures. Instead, it has a long reputation of doctoring figures to keep poaching casualty figures as low as possible to fool the world and please the political master in Zanu PF.
Instead of taking measures to protect rhinos, the authority is working hard to distort reality and downplay the intensity of the poaching crisis. The crisis is much bigger and it cannot be dressed up or sanitised by naked lies.
Poaching will not stop until Zanu PF stops encouraging supporters to invade and poach with impunity in conservancies as continues to happen in Masvingo, the Save Valley, Chiredzi and Gwanda.
The conservation of threatened species will not happen when senior politicians encourage invaders to stay put in conservancies and eat all the animals if they choose to, simply because they are the black Zanu PF followers and the conservancy owners are white like the Rhodesians used to be.