Zimbabwean government officials are allegedly being bribed by poachers for permission to undertake unlawful hunting activities within national conservancies in apparent breach of the country’s wildlife laws and regulations, it has emerged.
The scandal emerged at a court in United State of America’s District of Colorado when a local citizen implicated a South African hunter in the illicit movement, to the US, of the ivory of an elephant killed unlawfully in 2015 at Gonarezhou National Park.
Hanno Van Rensburg (44) is being “charged with federal crimes related to illegal elephant hunts, announced U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement (FWS-OLE) Special Agent in Charge Steve Oberholtzer.
The owner of a South African safari company, Authentic African Ventures (Hanno van Rensburg) is said to have paid amounts in the range between $5 000 and $8 000 to government officials as kickbacks for authorisation to hunt within Gonarezhou national park and have the ivory released.
The department of Justice for the District of Colorado has since sought indictment of the hunter.
“The defendant sought opportunities to hunt large elephants that frequent the area around Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. He hired a Zimbabwe-based outfitter so that he could lead a hunt inside the park. Once on the hunt, the defendant shot several elephants, and an elephant was killed inside the national park.
“The defendant then paid somewhere between $5,000 and $8,000 in bribes to Zimbabwean government officials in return for authorization to shoot the elephants, to kill an elephant inside Gonarezhou National Park, and to have the elephant’s ivory released.
“The defendant also helped a client in an effort to export the elephant out of Zimbabwe, by agreeing to falsely represent that the elephant was killed outside the national park and by agreeing to manufacture and submit a document falsely stating that this client was a resident of South Africa,” alleges the courts in the indictment.
After killing his hunt, Hanno van Rensburg is said to have made attempts to sell the tusk to an undercover from US Fish and Wildlife Agent before marketing the services of his poaching cartel which he said takes advantage of rampant corruption within the system.
“As alleged in the indictment, the defendant told the undercover agent that “if they need another tag, they get another tag. You know, that’s the negative part of it. The system is so corrupt. If they need to get it, they will get it. If the client pays the money they will find another tag. I am straight forward with you. Corruption is the rule in Africa,” Colorado’s department of Justice said in a statement to the media.
While advertising his covert hunting activities, Hanno van Rensburg ‘proposed that the undercover agent bring approximately $9,000 in “extras” that “we can use in camp to make things straight if we need to.”
The S.A hunter faces charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and violating the Endangered Species Act in the US.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners work together to support global efforts to protect threatened and endangered wildlife from illegal poaching,” U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer said.
The poaching of elephants has been dramatically increasing in Zimbabwe. Besides using common rifles to kill elephants for the tusks, illegal hunters have also employed the tactic of applying cyanide poison.
In 2015, Zimbabwean elephants suffered the biggest attack through poisoning in a carnage that left 235 elephants dead inside Hwange National Park.
About 250kg of cyanide was recovered from the scene of the poisoning and according Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority, by September in 2017 seven suspected poachers were shot dead and 408 were arrested of whom 388 were Zimbabweans and 20 foreigners.
An assortment of weapons was also recovered including 19 rifles and 45 pieces of ivory. Also confiscated were 145 game nets and 285 snares.
Zimbabwe which has an estimated more than 84,000 elephants is reported to have lost close to 900 elephants since 2013.
Conservationists have been incensed Zimbabwe’s non action on the matter with Zimbabwean born, UK based animal activist Sharon Hoole directly challenging President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the microblogging site, twitter.
“Mr President what’s happening? Criminals pleading guilty to bribing officials @Zimparks illegal hunts,” she inquired in apparent reference to Paul Ross Jackson of Evergreen in the US who is suspected to the one who implicated Hanno van Rensburg.
Although Paul Ross Jackson was not named by Colorado’s department of Justice, in April he pleaded guilty to the charges of violating the Endangered Species Act for shooting and killing an elephant in Zimbabwe.
In his plea, the locations and initials of the hunting company owner — H.V.R. — serve as a link to Hanno van Rensburg’s indictment.
Jackson was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and agreed to provide the Fish and Wildlife Service with all documents on any hunts outside the United States. He also was ordered to transfer the elephant’s tusks back to the Zimbabwean government.
:- CIJZ Investigations