A syndicate comprising police officers, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers and Asians is behind the latest spate of elephant killings in Hwange National Park, it has emerged. One of the suspects under active investigation is an assistant commissioner of police. Several others have been arrested in connection with the killing of 22 elephants, including a junior cop and a parks camp manager.
The syndicate has allegedly killed around 55 elephants for their ivory tusks since early 2015. Information gathered over the last two weeks indicates the Asians are the kingpins behind the indiscriminate poaching, whose funds sometimes end up oiling other international criminal networks.
Globally, poaching and wildlife trafficking are highly lucrative businesses estimated to earn between US$23 billion and US$47 billion yearly. They are jointly ranked fourth on the list of large-scale illegal trade worldwide after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
Police spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, confirmed arrests were made last week and said investigations were continuing.
Parks and Wildlife Management Authority acting spokesperson, Mr Tawanda Gotosa, added: “I can confirm that some arrests were made and one of our camp managers was suspended.”
Mr Gotosa would not discuss the matter further saying doing so would jeopardise investigations. Senior government officials close to the probe said that names of those under investigation could not be published as yet.
Sources say that the masterminds engaged game rangers and rogue cops, arranging details of hits, including killing methods and transportation.
In the most recent case 22 elephants were poisoned, despite the security team being on patrol. It turned out that part of the patrol team was about 500m away and a ranger is said to have heard the noise made as the tusks were cut off.
Authorities said the rangers and police officers were working with a powerful syndicate including Asian businessmen responsible for sourcing cyanide from gold mines. Cyanide is a relatively expensive chemical and ordinary villagers around the Hwange National Park may not be able to buy it.
About 10kg of cyanide was reportedly taken from a gold mine in Esigodini, some 40km from Bulawayo. An official said: “The problem is that some of the rangers who have been assisting security forces investigate the matter are also involved in the poaching. This close-knit syndicate must be busted to bring sanity to wildlife conservation.”
Investigators also discovered that during a recent inventory of elephant tusks at Hwange National Park stores, a tusk was missing. However, a few days later, it had been replaced by a smaller one. Only parks officials have access to the stores.