Temba Dube and Nqobile Tshili Chronicle Reporters
POLICE in Matabeleland North have smashed a six- man poaching syndicate with four of its members based in Bulawayo that allegedly poisoned and killed 41 elephants at Hwange National Park.A total of 17 tusks valued at about $120 000 were recovered. The gang would allegedly target pools frequented by elephants at the national park and use salt laced with cyanide to kill jumbos.
National police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Paul Nyathi confirmed the arrest of brothers Sipho Mafu (53) and Misheck Mafu (46) of Thula Line in Tsholotsho, Alexander Ngwenya (42) of 7654/15 Tshabalala, Farai Chitsa (34) of A6297 Old Pumula, Nqobizitha Tshuma (25) of 14 Taylor Avenue in North End and Tinashe Senwayo (22) of 2 Hofmeyer Square also in North End.
In an interview yesterday, the officer-in-charge of Tsholotsho Police Station, Chief Inspector Muyambirwa Muzzah, said the parks game rangers patrolling near Pelandaba area in Tsholotsho which borders the national park, heard gunshots on 24 August and made a report to the police.
“They went with the police to investigate and found two elephants that had been killed and dehorned. On further investigation, inside the game park, they found rotting carcasses of dehorned elephants. There were tracks, made by three people near the animals and they followed those to the Mafu homestead,” said Chief Insp Muzzah.
He said the elder Mafu led the police to the hidden cache of 17 tusks and the police laid a trap for the rest of the gang members.
“The Mafus called Chitsa on his cellphone, which was put on loudspeaker and told him to come for the stuff as it was ready. Chitsa came to the game park with the rest of the suspects in Senwayo’s kombi and they were arrested,” said Chief Insp Muzzah.
He said as they were being escorted to Tsholotsho Police Station, the gang was injured when the kombi overturned, in a suspected dash for freedom.
He said the police suspected that Chitsa could be the mastermind of the poaching racket as he was believed to be the one who supplied the cyanide and is thought to be the one in charge of selling the tusks.
Chief Insp Muzzah said police suspected that more elephant carcasses that had not yet been discovered were in the game park.
“What they were doing is very cruel because it does not end with the death of the elephants. We have what we call the fourth generation effect due to the potency of cyanide as a poison. Animals that feed on the dead elephants will die and those that feed on the dead animals will also die.
It will go back on the food chain and hundreds of animals may end up dead,” said Insp Muzzah.
He said sentences that were given to poachers were not deterrent.
“In May we arrested some people for killing five elephants using the same modus operandi and they were each sentenced to just two years in prison. Police recovered 17 tusks weighing about 161,88 kilogrammes,” said Chief Insp Muzzah.
“Police are investigating the extent to which the syndicates were involved in the poaching of elephants at Hwange and are appealing to members of the public who might have information to approach Tsholotsho Police Station.”
Chief Insp Muzzah said 69 elephants were killed by poachers in the area between May and August.
Today police will team up with the parks officials and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to make an environmental impact assessment of the cyanide poisoning in the area.