Zimbabwean authorities have upped their game against poaching syndicates with arrests of over 400 suspects, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo said Tuesday.
She said there was an increase in the number of wildlife cases in 2016 with 57 people sentenced to at least nine years in jail each, with more cases investigated and more people arrested and jailed than in 2015.
At least 443 Zimbabweans were arrested, together with 31 Zambians, seven Mozambicans and one South African, for wildlife-related offences.
Washaya-Moyo said Zambian poaching groups were responsible for cross-border elephant poaching in the Zambezi Valley, north of the country, while Mozambican elephant poachers target Gonarezhou and Save Valley Conservancy.
“It has now emerged that most of the poaching taking place inland is being perpetrated by syndicate members of different groups who are hired to form one larger organized gang due to various factors such as expertise in cyanide use and provision, knowledge of geographical areas and inside information, access, as well as local language for blending with the community,” she said.
Illegal firearms are hired from one location to another, but authorities managed to confiscate 22 in the past year in operations which also resulted in the recovery of 76 tusks and 179 ivory pieces.
Zimbabwe has an elephant population of 83,000, the second highest in Africa, and about 880 black and white rhinos which are located in private conservation areas, national parks and private properties across the country.
Poachers killed at least 300 elephants and many other animals through cyanide poisoning between 2013 and 2016, prompting the authorities to strengthen anti-poaching efforts.
Washaya-Moyo said the introduction of modern anti-poaching strategies such as the use of drones, sniffer and tracker dogs would go a long way in combating poaching and illegal wildlife trade in protected areas and at border points.
China in 2015 donated anti-poaching equipment worth 2.3 million U.S. dollars to Zimbabwe for use in anti-poaching programs in the country’s largest sanctuary Hwange National Park and in Mana Pools National Park, a World Heritage site.
The equipment included sport-utility-vehicles, pickup trucks, lorries, graders, tractors, more than 100 mobile radios, tents, flash lights and patrol clothing.
However, the country has serious setbacks in forensic analysis and the only credible forensic laboratory available, the Police Forensic Laboratory, is not adequately equipped to deal with wildlife specimens, Washaya-Moyo said.