Conservationists Label Zimbabwe Poaching Epicenter

Global environmental and wildlife watchdogs have named Zimbabwe and South Africa as the epicenter of poaching of the endangered rhino in Southern Africa. In their latest joint report released last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization – and wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said since 2006 95 percent of the poaching in Africa has occurred in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“These two nations collectively form the epicenter of an unrelenting poaching crisis in southern Africa,” said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, an organization that works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. The report, which has been submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ahead of its 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) in March, documents a decline in law enforcement effectiveness and an increase in poaching intensity in Africa.

"The situation is most serious in Zimbabwe where rhino numbers are now declining and the conviction rate for rhino crimes in Zimbabwe is only three percent," the report said. "Despite the introduction of a number of new measures, poaching and illicit horn trade in South Africa has also increased," it said, adding that the trade is being driven by Asian demand for horns and is made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers, who now are using veterinary drugs, poison, cross bows and high caliber weapons to kill rhinos.

Most rhino horns leaving southern Africa are destined for medicinal markets in southeast and east Asia, especially Vietnam, and also China. The report highlights Vietnam as a country of particular concern – noting that Vietnamese nationals operating in South Africa have recently been identified in rhino crime investigations. Zimbabwe and South Africa are two of four countries in the world that still have significant rhino populations. The other two, all in Africa, are Kenya and Namibia.The report comes at a time when Zimbabwe has suspended wildlife hunting licenses as the country has lost 250 rhinos to poachers over the past three years. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife last week issued a statement warning permit holders currently on hunting sessions to stop hunting with immediate effect so that their permits can be verified.

Wildlife authorities in the country have found it hard to contain poaching in national parks especially after landless villagers began invading – with the government’s tacit approval – white-owned farms in 2000. There have also been widespread reports of illegal and uncontrolled trophy hunting on former white-owned conservancies now controlled by powerful politicians from President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party.

The government however denies that politicians are illegally hunting game and insists it still has poaching under control. Among other things IUCN works on biodiversity and greening the world economy by supporting scientific research and bringing governments and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The Zimbabwean Wildlife Authorities office declared regarding the status of hunting for the 2009 and 2010 seasons: “We advise that the suspension was solely for the purpose of verifying the authenticity of the permits. There have been several allegation of illegal hunts taking place in the country using forged permits. This may result in clients not being able to export their trophies from Zimbabwe which in turn may discredit hunting in the country. As a result it was felt prudent that all permits used for hunting this season should have their authenticity verified, hence this exercise. In addition this exercise would put the Authority in a position where it can confidently comment on the legality or illegality of the hunts. All illegal hunts will then be published and perpetrators brought to book. Furthermore the current permit system will be reviewed to add more security features to reduce or avoid the use of forged permits. We advise clients that hunting in Zimbabwe has not been stopped but that potential clients should assist in the verification process. This can be done through our offices by contacting the Business Development Manager responsible for hunting who is Mr. Tawanda Chipere, available on tchipere@zimparks.co.zw or telephone +263 912 420 496 or + 263 4 792731 direct line.” - Dr. Mtsambiwa, Director General, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.