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Villagers confess to poisoning elephants

by Staff Reporter
05 Oct 2013 at 03:15hrs | Views
VILLAGERS from Chief Siphoso's area in Tsholotsho District have confessed to making a living out of poisoning elephants with cyanide and yesterday resolved to give up the practice and work with authorities in conserving wildlife.

The villagers told a seven-member ministerial delegation led by Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere at Pumula Village under Chief Siphoso that the breaking down of the Campfire programme, council and parks services led to some of them resorting to poaching.

Pumula Village is about 87km from Tsholotsho Centre and is the area where cyanide poisoning of elephants was rife. Villagers asked the delegation, comprising Cabinet Ministers Professor Jonathan Moyo (Information, Media and Broadcasting Services), Kembo Mohadi (Home Affairs), Dr Sydney Sekeramayi (Defence), Dr Ignatius Chombo (Local Government) and Engineer Walter Mzembi (Tourism), for a month-long amnesty during which they pledged to introspect and convince those among them that still had cyanide to hand it over to the authorities.

At least 95 elephants have died after consuming salt laced with cyanide. Environmentalists have warned that the poison could go through the food chain, killing animals that fed on the elephant carcasses and even humans.

Villagers are reportedly being exploited by syndicates who pay them as little as US$500 to kill elephants, with the syndicates selling a pair of tusks for as much as US$17 000.

Contributing to the discussion, a villager, Mr John Vumile Dube, pleaded with the Government to give villagers who still had cyanide at their homesteads, up to the end of the month to hand it over to the authorities.

"We have been working with Chief Siphoso and we have already convinced some villagers to hand over cyanide. We are pleading with the police to give us time and stop arresting villagers, at least until the end of the month.

"Anyone caught with the dangerous chemical after that would have to face the wrath of the law. Most of our children have fled to South Africa after people started being arrested over the issue. Please give us a chance to caucus among ourselves to get rid of all the cyanide in the village," said Mr Dube drawing applause from other villagers.

He said he had been working with Campfire since 1987 and problems started in 2009 when the organisation's structure seemingly broke down.

"Campfire stopped remitting the 60 percent it is supposed to give to village wards from the disposal of natural resources.
"The parks rangers stopped patrolling areas adjacent to Hwange National Park and there was no one left to deal with problem animals. Elephants started moving from the park to the villages destroying people's crops.

As we speak, there are areas like Ward 1 and 7 where people have not harvested anything since 2009 because of the elephants," said Mr Dube.

He said people started hating elephants then, because they were being arrested if they killed them.
"Poverty and hunger drove people to start this cruel practice of poisoning elephants that they had been co-existing with," said Mr Dube to more applause.

Chief Siphoso said people who were involved in the "callous" hunting method were greedy and jealous.
"We have to take the blame for the despicable actions of our children. However, I appeal to the Government to avail more funds to enable park rangers to establish more base stations and be better able to patrol the park and deal with the problem animals. The one base at Hwange is too far for this large area.

I must say I am pleased with the stiff sentences that were given to poachers who were arrested recently. They were unlike the usual six month sentences that they served and quickly returned to their wayward ways," said Chief Siphoso.

Three of the eight poachers who were arrested were each slapped with 16 year jail sentences. Chief Siphoso said villagers were ready to remove deviant elements among themselves and work at preserving their cultural heritage and natural wealth in sustainable ways that would develop the area.

Tsholotsho Rural District Council's chief executive officer, Mr Themba Moyo, said a major problem in the area was poor cell phone network and lack of transport.

"When problems arise, it is difficult to notify the authorities on time. If we see people being involved in criminal activities or animals causing havoc in the villages, by the time we make a report, they would be gone. Council and parks rangers also do not have an adequate fleet of vehicles to attend scenes when they are called by villagers. Criminals are taking advantage of this loophole," said Mr Moyo.

Kasukuwere told the villagers that Mohadi had agreed to grant the amnesty. He said the Government would ensure that the Campfire model was reviewed if it was not working.

"We should see Zimbabweans benefiting from their resources. If they are not, they will work with foreigners to destroy their birthright. It is good that all stakeholders are here and everyone has spoken openly. Together we shall act on all the information and ensure that there is positive change.

Tsholotsho is an arid area that has been hit by a series of poor harvests, it only makes sense that people here should benefit from their wildlife," said Kasukuwere.

To date cyanide poisoning incident has killed at least 95 elephants, two buffalos, a kudu, giraffe, lion, two painted dogs and lots of vultures that fed on the poisoned carcasses.

The Government has embarked on a programme that has since brought a buy-in from stakeholders that include villagers, Tsholotsho RDC, Campfire, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and safari hunters to stamp out poaching, especially using the highly toxic cyanide.

Source - Herald