By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, February 24, 2016 – ZAMBIA’S Tourism minister Patrick Ngoma has bemoaned the increasing number of his countrymen caught illegally hunting for animals in Zimbabwe’s nature reserves.
Ngoma said he was sorry that Zambians were now to blame for most of Zimbabwe’s poaching crimes.
Conservationists and police, especially in Matabeleland North say the majority of poachers roaming national parks in the province are from neighbouring Zambia.
Last Friday, a suspected Zambian poacher was gunned down by Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers near Matetsi in Hwange.
The Zambian was killed after the rangers laid an ambush on a group of suspected poachers leading to a heavy exchange of gun fire.
Earlier in the week, Victoria Falls police had retrieved two bodies of suspected Zambian poachers that were found floating on the Zambezi River after escaping another ambush on February 6.
Police said their bodies were still kept at the mortuary.
“We still stuck with their bodies. Their families, eight of them together with police came yesterday but they couldn’t identify them because of the body state. They refused to take them and suggested to call more relatives. Everywhere in Zambian newspapers we are insulted for killing their people and throwing them into the river but that is not true.” said officer commanding Victoria Falls police Jairos Chiwona.
Meanwhile, one of the suspected members of the syndicate Christopher Malasa Mandaya (35) appeared at the Victoria Falls Magistrates’ Court facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and dagga.
He was not asked to plead on the charges before Lindiwe Maphosa and was further remanded in custody to March 1.
He was arrested in Jambesi and was found in possession of 25 rounds of ammunition, a gun, two axes and butcher knives and two kilograms of dagga.
Ngoma told Radio VOP that some of the poachers were being used by Chinese nationals to hunt elephants in Zimbabwe for their ivory.
He said the increasing number of poachers of Zambian origin being caught on Zimbabwe was becoming a humiliation for the neighbouring country.
“In Zambia we are putting measures to make sure that poaching by our people is controlled but the fact that they are now failing to penetrate (our parks) has forced them to cross over to other countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana and Namibia to commit the offences,” he said.
“We had gone further with investigations, where we noticed that they are working in collaboration with Chinese nationals who give them a bit of money to poach in neighbouring countries and then they sacrifice their lives because most of them when they cross those borders they are killed.”
Ngoma said to solve poaching cases, drones would be deployed in the SADC region to track the culprits.
“What we intend to do as neighboring countries, is that we must create a security force for KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) and this force must be done hand in hand, I’m talking about security officers in all sides,” he said.
“We must create system, which will make them communicate easily without the poachers themselves or the foreigners who are sending our people to go and poach and that way we will be able to achieve our goals.
“It is very humiliating because everywhere it is now known that Zambians are poaching and they shoot back.
“In Zambia we have introduced drones so that they can be able to spy on our behalf when they spot something they will be able to report and our plan is to have drone dotted all over the region, hence the reason of escaping to Zimbabwe mainly.”
Last year, Zimbabwe lost nearly 100 elephants to poachers, mainly at the Hwange National Park.
Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said 11 poachers were shot dead by security agents in 2015 alone.