By Sij Ncube
Hwange, October 4, 2013 – As the death toll for elephants continue rising in Hwange National Park and the implication of police in the poaching scandal, a leading environment lobby group says the government should urgently set up a commission of inquiry into the cyanide poisoning of animals in the country’s biggest wildlife sanctuary.
Government officials say more than 90 elephants have to date died due to poisoning at the park, the third largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa after Tanzania’s Serengeti and South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
It emerged on Friday that five fresh elephant carcasses were discovered at a Ngamo Safaris property adjacent to the national park.
Officials were preparing to burn the dead elephants amid revelations the figure of poisoned animals has surpassed 100.
Apart from the elephants, an unspecified number of scavengers and predators that fed on the poisoned elephants are dying every day, according to Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management officials.
Several locals have been arrested over the scandal at the park with some of them implicating some police officers.
Johnny Rodrigues, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Radio VOP that the extent of the scandal at Hwange National Park indicated a more sophisticated network of crooks, including top government officials.
He said the involvement of the police who allegedly demanded bribes from some of the suspects warranted the setting up of a commission of inquiry.
“What is happening at Hwange National Park is a major crisis and a scandal. We demand a commission of inquiry. All those involved in this issue, including the police, should be held accountable, “said Rodrigues.
Police national spokesperson Charity Charamba was not immediately available to comment on the involvement of some police officers in the scandal.
Saviour Kasukuwere, the new Minister of Environment Water and Climate, said he would be touring the park over the weekend to assess efforts to deter the poisoned salt licks and watering holes as government moves to arrest the rot.
He said the government would deal decisively with the issue.
“We are on top of the situation with the great assistance that has come in from the corporate world which has donated vehicles to help Parks monitor the park. We are also happy that the judiciary is dealing with the poachers. Some have been jailed and it sends a message to would-be poachers,” said Kasukuwere.
During a media tour of the park last week, defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, hinted that the army could be roped in to deal with the rampant poaching at the park.