Monday, April 28, 2014

Poaching of Zimbabwe's 'Presidential Herd' elephants starts as guardian gives up

Fears about the future safety of the ‘protected’ Zimbabwe Presidential elephant herd have been further heightened, after reports of gunfire and suspected hunting activity at one of the herd’s watering holes. The reports came from a nearby safari lodge, claiming that a man called Ruben Mkandla and two hunters were shooting the elephants this weekend. Mkandla is understood to be the brother-in-law of former Mines Minister Obert Mpofu. SW Radio Africa was unable to verify the reports on Tuesday.But the claims will do little to ease the fears of conservationists in and around Zimbabwe, because the reports follow just days after warnings that the elephants are under threat. Last week, Johnny Rodrigues the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), warned that the elephants faced being killed despite the Presidential decree meant to be protecting them. He told SW Radio Africa that the decision by the herd’s primary caretaker to step aside, left them vulnerable to hunting activities. Last week Sharon Pincott, who founded and ran the Presidential Elephant Conservation Project since 2001, announced she was stopping her work. This shock decision followed a worsening fight caused by the takeover of a piece of land in the Hwange National Park, which serves as the herd’s home range. The land in the Kanondo area has been claimed by a woman who insists she has an inheritance claim to the land, despite a 2013 directive by Zimbabwe’s Cabinet that offer letters for the land be withdrawn. Instead, the Kanondo land claimant has forged ahead with the building of a safari lodge called the Gwango Elephant Lodge, which claims to be a conservancy opening for tourism business. The claimant, Elisabeth Pasalk/Freeman, is understood to be an American resident, but concern has been raised amid reports that she is the sister of a known Zimbabwean hunting safari operator named Rodger Madangure. Pincott was fighting for support and intervention from the government, because of the threat the land claim has to the Presidential elephant herd’s future safety. But her efforts have been to no avail and she has now completely withdrawn from the Project. Rodriques said: “Once she’s removed from there, the Presidential elephants will be gone. I hope they move on, but I believe the people claiming this land are interlinked with hunting operations so I don’t see any future for these animals. They will all be shot and that will be the end of the Presidential herd.” Meanwhile, a leading, international conservation group has warned in a new report that land grabs in Zimbabwe were a direct threat to elephant populations in Africa. The report commissioned by the Born Free group said that Zimbabwe could become a poaching hot spot as a result of the lawless and murky manner in which conservation land has been parceled out to ZANU PF members. Source: SW Radio Africa

African poaching crisis - the grisly details...

A new report from Born Free USA accuses the governments of Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sudan, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of supporting elephant and rhino poaching, and public officials there of overlooking, and sometimes even arming, the criminals. The report, called Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalisation of Poaching in Africa was carried out by Born Free USA and C4ADS (an nonprofit organisation dedicated to data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting of conflict and security issues worldwide). Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA explains, “Our findings shine a bright light on Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Sudan, and Kenya, where poachers move across borders with near impunity, slaughter elephants with complete disregard, and use the ivory to fund violent operations across the continent. Global leaders cannot stand by while the human tragedy and poaching crisis continue.” In particular the report alleged: • From Sudan, government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants hundreds of miles outside North Sudan’s borders. • In the DRC, state security forces patronise the very rebels they are supposed to fight, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for ivory. • Zimbabwean political elites, including those under international sanction, are seizing wildlife spaces that either are, or likely will soon be, used as covers for poaching operations. • In East Africa, al-Shabaab and Somali criminal networks are profiting off Kenyan elephants killed by poachers using weapons leaked from local security forces. • Mozambican organised crime has militarised and consolidated to the extent it is willing to battle the South African army and well-trained ranger forces for rhino horn. • In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, ill-regulated forest exploitation is bringing East Asian migrant labourers, and East Asian organised crime, into contact with Central Africa’s last elephants. • In Tanzania, political elites have aided the industrial-scale depletion of East Africa’s largest elephant population. Varun Vira, Senior Analyst at C4ADS, says: “Subsistence elephant poaching barely exists anymore. Impoverished locals may pull the triggers but they source to organised crime, which controls the scale of the poaching and nearly all profits. Saving both elephants and local communities will require moving from the bush into the world of global illicit networks in order to target transnational criminal profits. There are infinitely more young Africans willing to shoulder guns and kill elephants than there are containers full of ivory. Source: Wildlife Extra (UK) ”