Prosper Ndlovu Senior Reporter
THE Government will consider deploying soldiers in Hwange National Park to beef up security and curb rampant poaching amid revelations that the number of elephants that have died from cyanide poisoning has risen from 81 to 90.A seven-member ministerial delegation led by the Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Cde Saviour Kasukuwere, yesterday visited the park to monitor progress in the de-toxication of the affected cyanide poisoning areas.
The delegation, which comprised Cabinet Ministers Dr Sydney Sekeramayi (Defence), Dr Ignatius Chombo (Local Government), Professor Jonathan Moyo (Information), Dr David Parirenyatwa (Health), Dr Joseph Made (Agriculture) and Cde Walter Chidhakwa (Mines) had a lengthy discussion mapping strategies for reinforcing security at the park and equipping the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority to execute its mandate in an efficient manner.
“This is an emergency and we have to take all the necessary measures to respond to it. If it becomes necessary we might consider deploying the military to protect the animals,” said Dr Sekeramayi who was responding to questions from the media.
The delegation, which also comprised senior officials from the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and the police resolved to tighten security at the park to ensure that the poisoning of animals does not recur.
Cde Kasukuwere said from their findings, incidences of poisoning have been going on for some time but intensified in the past few months. He said his ministry would do all in its power to root out poaching.
“We are determined to protect our wildlife at all cost. We will drill more boreholes in the park because we have realised that these criminals target areas where there is a shortage of water,” he said.
“We take this as transnational crime because it is done by locals who are connected to outside traders hence we intercepted 447kg of ivory in Dubai.
“We are engaging Interpol to ensure that we get to the root of this thing. Ivory is in demand and as stakeholders, we need to fight together and stop poaching of our animals.”
Cde Kasukuwere said the park was supposed to have a staff complement of about 700 workers but at the moment only has 145.
He said the poisoning has prejudiced the country of substantial amounts in potential tourism revenue adding that operational efficiency at the park’s sections was also affected by the illegal sanctions imposed on the country by the West and its allies.
“Overally this is contributing to the slow down of our economy because tourists come here because of these animals. In terms of our perception in the international community the world is starting to see some of the problems associated with sanctions,” said Cde Kasukuwere.
Cde Chidhakwa said there was a need for Zimbabwe to engage its regional neighbours as well to ensure that poaching activities were completely eradicated.
Prof Moyo said it was crucial to avail sufficient funding to equip the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in drilling boreholes, general rehabilitation of the park, beefing up staff and procurement of enough vehicles for monitoring programmes.
Dr Parirenyatwa said health experts, in collaboration with EMA were doing samples of the affected soil to determine the level of cyanide concentration and de-toxicate them.
He, however, said no reports of human deaths have been made but said awareness programmes in the community have been conducted.
There was also a report that there was evidence that the poachers were camping inside the park while doing their illicit operations.
Dr Made also said de-toxicating the affected areas was supposed to be done before the rainy season to avoid the spreading of the poisoning.
To date the cyanide poisoning incident has killed 90 elephants, two buffaloes, a kudu, giraffe, lion, two painted dogs and lots of vultures that consumed the carcasses of the poisoned animals.
After the briefing the delegation took journalists from different local and foreign media organisations to the affected areas where EMA officials were busy collecting the carcasses in order to burn them.
The delegation visited six salt leak points where most elephants died. EMA and Parks officials were seen busy scooping the poisoned salt which they treated to neutralise the effect of cyanide.
Cde Kasukuwere also reported that EMA was working with the traditional leadership to collect any cyanide from villagers’ homes and said so far 4kg of the chemical has been collected.