Ex-convicts join fight against poaching in Zimbabwe’s fourth largest national park

Ex-convicts join fight against poaching in Zimbabwe’s fourth largest national park

Ex-convicts join fight against poaching in Zimbabwe’s fourth largest national park

    (Sutirta Budiman)

(Sutirta Budiman)

By Mary Mundeya for Enviropress

As a measure to curb recurring poaching in areas around Zimbabwe’s Chizarira Game Park, former wildlife offenders have joined authorities in the fight against the vice.

Covering approximately 2,000 square kilometres, Chizarira National Park is located in the northern part of Zimbabwe and is the fourth largest in Zimbabwe after Hwange, Gonarezhou and Mana Pools.

Chizarira has a huge population of elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo.

The villages surrounding the game reserve are seeing a resurgence of illegal wildlife hunting involving people from neighboring communities such as Binga, Gokwe and Karoi; while others are cross-border criminals from Zambia.

In 2019-2021, poaching decreased significantly from a high of 77 in 2019 to 10 in 2021, but gains have started to reverse from last year.

According to a survey conducted by Fauna and Flora Zimbabwe (FafloZim), significantly more poachers were arrested in 2022 than in the previous year.

Since July 2022, the organization has documented the arrest of 19 people and the recovery of 36 elephant tusks in Zimbabwe, 69% of the tusks have been recovered only in Gokwe in the areas surrounding the Chizarira.

“It is very disturbing to note that at least 36 tusks were recovered over a seven month period. 36 elephant tusks results in 18 or more dead elephants. Most worryingly, these are not national statistics.

“Despite the apparent deterrent effect of the required punishment, the arrest figures for ivory poaching are appalling despite knowledge of the minimum 9-year prison sentence,” read in part a report produced by FaFloZim after its poll.

FafloZim is an eco-centric community-based organization formed by a group of environmental lawyers and other experts whose primary mandate is advocacy for environmental rights. Chapter 20:14 of Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Act prohibits the removal and sale of wild animals in the country without a license.

Reports indicate that the arrests in Gokwe were made after police were tipped off by some people in the community.

Four poachers were arrested in two separate incidents in Gokwe after police received a tip that Elias Mjobi and Godwin Mkandla had 14 tusks of raw ivory, and another duo Ashton Chibi of Plot 57 Mutuvha, Norton and Chenjerai Chirinda residing in Mushawiti village under Chief Nemangwe in Gokwe was also reported to be found in possession of four pieces of raw ivory near the Galiva bus stand along the Gokwe-Chitekete road.

A conservationist specializing in community action projects, Amos Gwema, said most of the arrests were made possible by ex-convicts who now work with authorities in conservation and wildlife protection programmes.

“Poaching appears to have resurfaced in communities that have suffered drought in recent years, and these include Gokwe and Binga. From Gokwe, poachers usually travel through Binga, where the area is remote and the trails are easier to navigate,” Gwema said.

He said some of the former wildlife convicts were working with the support of their bosses and actively made it possible for the authorities to catch the culprits.

Nkosikona Dube* is one of the ex-con whistleblowers who help fight wildlife crime in the area.

“Following my release from prison in 2021, I decided to join the authorities in the fight against wildlife crime and my involvement has resulted in the arrests of a substantial number of poachers,” he said.

Dube is also committed to community education about the importance of wildlife conservation.

“I always tell kids that poaching is not something to be proud of, nothing comes of it. Money isn’t everything and the money you get from that raw ivory is very insignificant but the prison sentence is tough. I wasted more than three years of my life in prison,” she added.

Albert Munsaka, the head of Siachilaba village where Dube resides, says Nkosikona’s wildlife action programs have resulted in positive behavior among the villagers.

“Currently, my community now has a better appreciation of wildlife conservation and protection.

So any form of illegal activity in our area is reported to the authorities by the people themselves and this was made possible by one of my own who was once jailed for poaching,” he said.

Munsaka praised his people, especially the ex-convicts for introducing wildlife community initiatives to their area as they are now working with police and Zimparks to curb wildlife crime in the area.

A source close to Zimbabwe’s CID Minerals, Flora and Fauna Department corroborated Munsaka’s sentiments, pointing to the recent arrests of Elias Mjobi and Godwin Mkandla, from Mukwariva village.

The two were allegedly found in possession of 14 elephant tusks without permission following a tip from another ex-con.

This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Program, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. The written articles of the Mozambican and Angolan cohorts are translated from the Portuguese. The transmitted stories remain in the original language.

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