Ministers and South African Hunters Implicated in Poaching in Zimbabwe published November 2009 HWANGE - Massive poaching is taking place inside the Hwange National Park, involving a network of high-ranking Wildlife and National Parks officials in cahoots with a few named local and foreign safari operators. “Some powerful government minister has simply taken over the National Park as his own safari area and we are powerless to stop it,” said a National Parks officer who cannot be named for reasons of personal security. The Zimbabwean has been given detailed information in the form of documents which show that this has been happening intensively over the past 18 months. It is extremely difficult to prove that the hunts are illegal, as the Parks officers are simply instructed by high-ranking government officials to give out hunting concessions in a clandestine manner. Our investigations have revealed that illegal hunters set up base at the Pandamatenga Rest Camp in Botswana. From there they cross the Zimbabwean boarder each morning for their hunts. The band that operates from Pandamatenga is involved in elephant and buffalo hunting. Butch Manasse, a seasoned South African hunter is mentioned in the documents as playing a leading role. An official from an organisation called Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe sought an audience with George Pangeti, the chairman of the Parks Authority in September, to discuss the issue. Pangeti promised to look into it, but up to the time of going to press nothing had been done. The Zimbabwean is in possession of a radio communication transcript between two Safari operators. The names of Vitalis Chadenga, the Parks Conservation Director General, and a South African safari operator called Barry Van Heerden, feature in their conversation. Investigations show that the poaching syndicate has tentacles at all levels – including the local police. Last month a Zimbabwean hunter named Mitch Bunce caught one Wilfred Belani, license number 23 when he (Belani) had shot a cow elephant in the Sikumi Forest. Belani was taken to Tshotsholo police station but no formal charge was laid. A week later the same Belani was taken to Dete Police Station after he shot and wounded a bull elephant using a bow and arrow. During the act he was with a South African called Donovan Harris from Lewis Harris Safaris. They failed to kill the animal and it went back into the bush wounded. At the police station the hunters claimed they had a license to operate in the area. To date the case has still not been investigated. Baleni is reported to have received US$2000 from Harris for his role in the hunt. The elephant was shot in the forest near the Victoria Falls-Bulawayo railway line at Farm 35’s boundary. The names of Ministers Obert Mpofu, Webster Shamu and Emerson Mnangagwa consistently appear whenever there is a reported case. The accused are then allowed by the police to go scot-free. Mpofu’s brother-in-law Ruben Mkhandla is believed to have been given a piece of land between Sikumi and Sables Lodges under Mugabe’s corrupt and violent land “reform” programme. In addition, the names of certain hunters said to be working with the department of parks and the politicians continue to crop up. They include Alan and Brian van Heerden, Lawrence Botha, Wayne Jardine, Guy Whittal and Wilfred Belani. A recent incident in the Robins Camp area of the park saw five Romanians, a Parks warden and a professional hunter arrested by a parks officer for illegally hunting elephants. Their vehicle, rifles and equipment were impounded, and charges laid against them. However, before going to court, they were released and given back all their equipment. High ranking sources in the police say that they were released on orders from Francis Nhema, the Minister of Environment and Tourism.