Thursday, October 24, 2013

Zim poaching crisis: 300 elephants estimated dead through cyanide poisoning

Aerial images taken by a team of British hunters seems to show that cyanide-poisoning has been used to kill 300 elephants in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's biggest nature reserve - three times the original estimate. The full extent of the devastation wreaked in Hwange, the country's largest national park, has been revealed by legitimate hunters who discovered what conservationists say is the worst single massacre in southern Africa for 25 years. Pictures taken by the hunters, which have been obtained exclusively by The Telegraph, reveal horrific scenes. Parts of the national park, whose more accessible areas are visited by thousands of tourists each year, can be seen from the air to be littered with the deflated corpses of elephants, often with their young calves dead beside them, as well as those of other animals. There is now deep concern that the use of cyanide – first revealed in July, but on a scale that has only now emerged – represents a new and particularly damaging technique in the already soaring poaching trade. Zimbabwean authorities said that 90 animals were killed this way. But the hunters who captured these photographs say they have conducted a wider aerial survey and counted the corpses of more than 300. Poachers killed the elephants over the past three months by lacing waterholes and salt licks with cyanide. Animals are drawn to them during the dry season in the already arid and remote south-eastern section of the 5,660-square mile park. After the elephants died, often collapsing just a few yards from the source, lions, hyenas and vultures which fed on their carcasses were also struck down, as were other animals such as kudu and buffalo that shared the same waterholes. Zimbabwe's authorities say the cyanide has been planted by villagers who sell the elephants' tusks for around £300 each to cross-border traders. They can be resold in South Africa for up to £10,000 a pair, according to court papers relating one recent incident, sometimes re-emerging as carved artefacts such as bangles in Cape Town's craft markets. Zimbabwe has one of Africa's biggest surviving elephant populations, since herds in neighbouring regions of Eastern and Central Africa have been severely damaged by poaching, and half of the country's estimated 80,000 elephants are thought to live in Hwange. Conservationists say the African elephant is so much under threat from habitat loss, conflict with humans and illegal poaching and hunting that on present trends it could die out within 50 years. In 2011, at least 17,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks according to Cites, the international body that focuses on endangered species. Ivory is highly prized as a "white gold" in Asian countries where a growing middle class is seeking safe investments, and United Nations wildlife experts say the trade in illegal ivory has more than doubled since 2007. The poisoning was first uncovered by a European hunter and his Zimbabwean guides who spotted a dead cow and her calf as they flew over the park in a helicopter. As they flew lower they saw scores more. The corpses of endangered white-backed vultures which had fed on the toxic carcasses were dotted near each dead elephant. "We couldn't believe our eyes," one hunter, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisals from poachers, told The Telegraph. "We thought at first that they must have been shot. There were too many to have died of thirst or hunger." They flew back to camp and drove into the park after alerting government rangers as they went. "We found that elephants we saw from the air were not shot, but the tusks were gone," the hunter said. His group spotted a man walking into the park carrying a four-gallon bucket and a packet. They watched him dig a hole for the bucket in the sand, lower it in and then mix powder from the packet into the water. Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife Authority sent investigators and police to the area, where there are normally few patrols. The water was discovered to contain cyanide – available cheaply for use in informal gold mining that is conducted locally. After further investigation police arrested eight men from a village in the Tsholotsho district which borders the park, along with a number of fellow officers who were allegedly bribed to ignore the poachers, and a Harare-based cyanide distributor to whom more than 100lbs of the poison were traced. So far, 14 people have been arrested since the first poisoning was discovered. As news of the killings spread, the Zimbabwean authorities took usually swift and harsh action – putting captured poachers before the courts where they were given sentences of up to 16 years in prison along with stiff fines. When Saviour Kasukawere, Zimbabwe's environment minister, visited a village just outside the park two weeks ago she was told that the poachers had acted out of desperation as their crops had failed and tourism fees from hunters and safari operators had dried up. Caroline Washaya-Moyo, a spokesman for Zimbabwe's National Parks, said 10 more poisoned elephants were found last week, none of which had been dead for more than three weeks, suggesting that the poisoning had not stopped. She said she was "surprised" by the report that 300 elephants had died, but conceded that ZimParks only begun its own aerial survey last week. "We did find that (looking for carcasses) is more efficient from the air," she said. Police have discovered tusks near a railway line which passes through Hwange and last week found more, hidden in a concealed compartment of a luxury bus on the way to South Africa. Some of the carcasses have now been burned, Mrs Washaya-Moyo said, but others had been kept for further investigation. Mrs Washaya-Moyo said they were struggling to persuade those in custody to identify the organisers. "It is a pity that they all seem so reluctant to identify the big people involved, as ivory, like the rhino horn, is not used in Zimbabwe. It is used by foreigners," she said. Tom Milliken, programme leader for the Elephant and Rhino Traffic network, a conservation organisation, said he was "astounded" by the scale of the killings. "This is the largest massacre of elephant in this part of the world for the last 25 years," he said. "This (use of buckets of water) is seductive for elephants at this dry time of year when they're looking hard for water. Cyanide is a new weapon against wildlife." Tim Snow, a South African expert on wildlife poisoning, said the emergence of cyanide in poaching was "really scary". "Quite apart from these elephants' deaths, what about all the other animals using that water source and scavenging from those corpses? The knock-on effect must be horrendous," he said. Cyanide has not been used in poaching before because in most countries it is strictly controlled and its use in agriculture had been phased out, he said. "In Zimbabwe, because of the challenges they are facing, I would imagine it's a free for all," he said. "If this is a gold mining area then that's where the investigators should be looking. If controls are not put in place, its use could become rife." Conservationists say ZimParks needs 10 times the number of rangers it currently has to be able to prevent cyanide from being used again. Thys de Vries, one of Zimbabwe's best known professional hunters and conservationists, said: "There are some very good people out there but they are short of resources and need help." Source: Telegraph, UK

Elephant poacher gets 15 year-jail term as cyanide poisoning deaths mount in Hwange

Another suspected member of a poaching syndicate has been sentenced to serve 15 years behind bars, following the poisoning and killing of eleven elephants in the Hwange National Park last week. Akim Masuku of Chezhou Village in Hwange who pleaded guilty to the charge of contravening the Parks and Wildlife Act (illegal possession of ivory) was slapped with the lengthy custodial sentence by Hwange provincial magistrate Rose Dube. His co-accused Normal Ncube from the same village pleaded not guilty and will be tried in due course. He was remanded in custody to October 30th.Namatirai Ngwasha prosecuting for the state, told the court that Parks rangers found carcasses of 11 elephants about 38 kilometres from the Hwange Main Camp while on a routine patrol. The officials followed spoor that led them to Masuku and Ncube and they found them in possession of 200 granules of cyanide and 13 elephant tusks, leading to their arrest. Cases of poaching are on the rise in Zimbabwe. Recently an estimated 300 elephant carcasses were discovered in Hwange and its surrounding districts. Almost all the elephants were poisoned with cyanide by poachers who hack off the tusks for the lucrative illegal ivory market. Numerous other animals have died as a result of the cyanide. Last month, three other members of a syndicate were sentenced to at least 15 years each behind bars, following the poisoning of 81 elephants in the Hwange Park. The poachers are paid a fraction of the value of the elephant tusks and are often the ones who are caught and pay the price. Meanwhile the heads of the syndicates continue to get away with the crime. A recent Mail and Guardian report on Zimbabwe’s poaching said that some of those involved are senior officials in government. They quoted the head of one of Zimbabwe’s largest tour operators who said: “Our government knows some of those behind this. I know for a fact names have been passed to the government, but there is nothing being done.” Source: Online

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Senior police detective, 3 surbodinates on trial for extorting $10 000 bribe from Hwange poachers

By Thabang Mathebula, 7 October 2013 A POLICE detective assistant inspector and three colleagues who allegedly received a US$10,000 bribe from poachers suspected to have poisoned to death 95 elephants in Hwange National Park have appeared in court. The four were remanded in custody by Bulawayo magistrate, Gladmore Mushove, on Monday. Detective Assistant Inspector Alois Gakata, Detective Sergeant Wellington Jena, Detective Constable Shadreck Rore and Detective Ronald Dube allegedly took the huge bribe to release an impounded vehicle used by a suspected poaching syndicate. The four were named by several of the alleged poachers who have been arrested as the officers who took the money in order to release their Toyota Hilux. The truck was transporting elephant tusks to Harare when it was intercepted. Daniel Mba, Mthandazo Tshuma, Mai Rumba, Anna Mvereche and Elfina Mzizi had all been placed under arrest but were allowed to walk after the money was paid, it is alleged. Robert Maphosa, Thabani Zondo and Dedani Tshuma have already been jailed for poisoning the elephants using cynanide in search of elephant tusks being sold in lucrative Asian markets. Four other suspected poachers will soon appear in court facing charges of poaching and using cyanide without permission. Source: The Voice of America

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kenyan customs service seizes two tonnes of ivory, pangolin scales at Mombasa port

Kenya Revenue Authority officers on Friday impounded a container with two tonnes of ivory which was packed in between bags of sesame seeds at the Mombasa port. The 40-foot container arrived in Mombasa via railway from Uganda and was destined for an oil manufacturing company in Turkey. The officers counted 686 pieces of ivory weighing 1.95 tonnes. They also ceased 45kg of scales believed to be from Pangolin, an endangered reptile species found in subsaharan countries. The KRA and Kenya Wildlife Service officers said they cannot establish where the animals were captured and killed even though the cargo is from Uganda. According to documents seen by the Star, 23,750kg of sesame seeds were being transported to Melmet vegetable oil industries in Turkey while Cosmo Freight International Company was the clearing agent. Speaking to Star yesterday KRA’s southern region senior assistant commissioner Fatma Yusuf said they are working closely with officers from other departments to carry out forensic investigation on the ivory. “We have to do a forensic investigation to determine the origin of these animals,” she said. She however said they cannot establish the value of the scales as it is the first time they have intercepted such a trophy. Source: The Star, Nairobi

Friday, October 4, 2013

12 Chinese men arrested for elephant and pangolin poaching in Gabon

Twelve Chinese men were arrested for poaching in Gabon after being found to have a Winchester rifle, elephant meat, pangolin scales elephant meat and ivory jewellery. Gabon's Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux (ANPN), said it arrested the twelve, all thought to be Chinese nationals on suspicions of poaching. The 12 men were found in possession of large quantities of elephant meat and pangolin scales, as well as a Winchester hunting rifle and several pieces of ivory. Joseph Vivien Okouyi Okouyi, Senior Curator of parks of northeast of Gabon "Not only were these Chinese men consuming elephant meat, but they were also in possession of ivory jewellery. We have not yet discovered the tools or the ivory they used to create the jewellery." With 80% of its territory covered by forest at and with an 800 kilometre of coastline, Gabon is a paradise for a huge variety of species and wildlife, including forest elephants, giant pangolin, antelopes, gorillas and many birds. However, poaching continues at a disturbing level, fuelled by burgeoning demand from the Asian black market for ivory, which leads to the loss of many animals; more than 20,000 elephants have been slaughtered by poachers since 2004, according to a recent survey. "This organized crime must now be fought like the like drug trafficking, using similar methodologies and by deploying more resources" said Christian Long, technical director of the ANPN. Source: Wildlife Extra (UK)

Cyanide dealer who supplied Hwange elephant poachers freed on $100 bail

The manager of a Harare-based company that is alleged to have supplied sodium cyanide to a poaching syndicate that poisoned and killed more than 90 elephants and other wild animals at Hwange National Park, Elvis Ncube, yesterday appeared in court. Ncube (30) of number 11 Frederick Booth Road, Hillside in Harare, a human resources manager for Servcor Zimbabwe Private Limited Company situated at Number 47 Plymouth Road, Southerton, was not asked to plead when he appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Ms Gladmore Mushove. He is facing charges of contravening Section 137(1)(g)(2) of the Environmental Management Act, Chapter 20:27, which prohibits storage of hazardous substances at unlicensed premises. Ncube was remanded out of custody to 16 October on $100 bail. As part of his bail conditions, Ncube was ordered to report once every week on Fridays at Cranborne Police Station in Harare, to reside at his given address and not to interfere with witnesses.Allegations against Ncube are that between October and November last year, he allegedly acquired three tonnes of sodium cyanide and stored it at his place of residence. He allegedly sold the chemical to different unnamed individuals including the poaching syndicate who were not licensed to deal in cyanide, a classified hazardous chemical in terms of the country’s laws.Seven members of the poaching syndicate that used the cyanide have since been arrested and separately appeared in court facing charges of poisoning the elephants and other wild animals at Hwange National Park. Two of them, Clever Khumalo (44) and Sipho Mafu (54) recently told the court that they had been operating for the past five years.The two are being charged with delivering, or offering toxic substances and also illegally possessing ivory and were remanded in custody to Tuesday. Mafu and his brother Misheck and Farai Chitsa are also set to appear in court tomorrow in another case of hunting without authority and violating the EMA Act.Three of the poachers – Robert Maposa (42), Thabani Zondo (24) and Dedani Tshuma (25) were last week sentenced to 16 years in prison each for illegal possession of ivory and contravening Section 73 (1) of EMA Act. Maposa and Zondo were further ordered to pay $600 000 restitution to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority by 31 December 2013 and Tshuma was also ordered to pay $200 000 restitution by the same date. Ms Caroline Matanga is representing the State. Source: Chronicle

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tanzania considering US proposal to use drones in anti-poaching ops

Written by Oscar Nkala, Tuesday, 01 October 2013 The Tanzanian government says it is considering proposals from private American conservationists who are offering to help the country fight endemic rhino and elephant poaching using unmanned aerial vehicles, as the parks authority steps up the recruitment of game rangers to tighten security around game sanctuaries. Tanzanian ambassador to the United States Liberta Malamula told US online media that the offers of help from unidentified American citizens followed President Barrack Obama's visit to Tanzania on July 1 this year when he promised to help improve anti-poaching operations and discussed the possibility of using unarmed UAVs to help the Tanzania National Parks authority complement overstretched game rangers in patrolling its wildlife sanctuaries. "I have held talks with drone experts and they have helped clear the negative perception I had about them. I have received the proposals and the talks are ongoing. One area, they said, was the training of more rangers. There were even suggestions that the U.S. government can help us with these drones," Mulamula said. In his visit to Tanzania, Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete discussed the possibility of using unarmed UAVs to combat rampant elephant and rhino poaching in the Tarangire, Ruaha, Mikumi, Selous, Serengeti and Lake Manyara national parks among others. If approved, the project would be funded from the US$10 million fund set up by President Obama to help Kenya, South Africa and other regional countries including Tanzania to acquire and deploy high-technology tracking, observation and ground patrol systems to protect endangered rhino and elephant populations in areas hard-hit by poaching. As part of efforts to improve anti-poaching operations, TanParks has recruited 100 youths who will undertake a three month-long training course prior to deployment as game rangers across the country's game sanctuaries. The authority said the recruits have already completed the selection process and will begin the military training segment of the course on 1 October. TanParks reported that it has also set up, trained and deployed a crack team of 40 rangers for rapid-reaction operations to poaching alerts within the country's game reserves. More than 1 000 poachers were arrested in Tanzanian national parks between April and June this year. 248 of the suspected poachers were arrested in the Serengeti National Park, which is home to huge rhino and elephant populations. Source:

Police detectives connived with Hwange 'cyanide' poaching syndicate, says trial witnesses

By Leonard Ncube BULAWAYO – The poaching syndicate that has been killing elephants by cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park has been operating for the past five years. This was revealed by two members of the alleged syndicate when they appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Ms Gladmore Mushove. The poaching syndicate that has been killing elephants by cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park has been operating for the past five years. The poaching syndicate that has been killing elephants by cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park has been operating for the past five years. Clever Khumalo (44) and Sipho Mafu (54) are being charged with delivering, or offering toxic substances and also illegally possessing ivory in contravention of the Parks and Wildlife Act and the Environmental Management Act.The two are jointly charged with Sanelisiwe Dube of 15099 Nkulumane 12 who is still at large. They were allegedly selling the ivory in Harare and South Africa. In their warned and cautioned statements, Khumalo of 59864/2 Iminyela Flats and Mafu, of Pelandaba Village in Tsholotsho, said they committed the offence in the company of Mthandazo Tshuma, who is on the run and several other people from Bulawayo and Harare. Khumalo said Mafu supplied him with 25kg of ivory in 2008 which he sold to a Mr Mutemwa in Harare for $1 000. He said in 2010 he got 54 kg of ivory from Tshuma of Binga and used it to make bangles which he sold in Cape Town, South Africa for $13 000. Khumalo said Mafu supplied him with 130kg of ivory in 2011, which he smuggled to South Africa using a cross border commuter omnibus operator commonly known as umalayitsha but alleged that he lost the consignment to robbers. He said last year he was introduced to a person identified as Mr Albert Buzizi, a former teacher at Mpopoma High School who supplied them with 50kg of cyanide, which they used to poison the jumbos. Khumalo said he took the cyanide to Mafu’s homestead in Tsholotsho and in August last year, Mafu supplied him with 240kg of ivory after poisoning some elephants. Some of the members of the syndicate, according to Khumalo, were a woman identified as Mrs Anna Moyo of Number 16734 Millas Road, Romney Park, Mr Daniel Mba who knew the buyer in Harare, Tshuma, a woman identified as Mai Rumbi from Harare, another woman identified as Anna Mvereche and a Ms Elfina Mzizi. He said last year in August they used Mrs Moyo’s vehicle after she allegedly lied to her husband that she wanted a car to visit her ill sister in Kwekwe and the husband gave her a Toyota Hilux to use, not knowing that she had been hired to carry the ivory. According to Khumalo and Mafu’s statements, the syndicate was intercepted by police in Harare and fled from the scene leaving the vehicle, which was then impounded. They said some policemen led by an officer only identified as Gankata demanded $10 000 bribe to release the vehicle after tracing it back to Mrs Moyo’s husband in Bulawayo. The syndicate allegedly gave the police $3 000 and three officers from Harare allegedly came to Bulawayo after seven days to collect the balance of $7 000. Khumalo and Ncube said a man identified as Gumbo was facilitating the transactions and when they accompanied the police officers back to Harare, they stopped in Norton when the officers phoned Gankata and they drove to his house with the money. While in Harare, Khumalo and Mafu alleged that they slept at Cranborne Police Station at a cottage belonging to a policeman identified as Musoma. Mafu told the police that after receiving the cyanide, he would either apply it on the soil where elephants spent time or in buckets full of water which he would submerge in the ground for jumbos to drink.Mr Buzizi, whose statement was also recorded by the police, said he used to work at NFS Chemicals, a company which supplied different kinds of chemicals. He said they would sell the cyanide only to people personally known to the company executives because they had no EMA certificate of storage and sale. Mr Buzizi said he sold a drum of sodium cyanide to Dube because they were long time friends and she later gave it to Khumalo who then supplied it to Mafu. He said Dube told him that they had a gold mine claim and wanted to use the cyanide at the mine. Khumalo and Mafu would next appear in court on 8 October and they are remanded in custody. Mafu also has another case of hunting without authority and violating EMA Act, in which he is jointly charged with his brother, Misheck and Farai Chitsa and they will next appear in court on 4 October. Miss Concilia Ncube is representing the State. Source: Chronicle