Peter Matambanadzo in HWANGE
Police have so far arrested 12 people involved in the cyanide poisoning of at least 100 elephants in Hwange National Park, with some of them having already been handed jail terms by the courts. Of the suspects, 10 were arrested a few weeks ago, while two were taken in on Sunday, following the discovery of 10 more elephant carcasses and recovery of 11 pieces of ivory.
The suspects, Normal Ncube (18) and Akim Masuku (26) both from Chezhou communal lands located between Magoli and Dete just on the boundary of the mega national park, are being held at Dete Police Station.
The suspects were apprehended after the police together with the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority officers raided a homestead in Chezhou.
Their accomplice, believed to be an ex-soldier and has been identified as Fanuel Luphahla, is on the run.
Hwange police officer-in-charge Chief Superintendent Ben Antonio said they expected to account for all the suspects soon.
“The net is closing in on the suspects,” he said. “More arrests will be made as we make follow-ups on the suspects.”
Parks spokesperson Ms Caroline Washaya-Moyo confirmed the arrest and said investigations were under way.
Police recovered an army uniform and a pack of cyanide when they raided the homestead where the ex-soldier fled.
Part of the ivory recovered on Sunday worth over US$15 000 was stashed close to the crime scene, while the other loot was hidden near a railway line which runs through Hwange National Park.
The arrest of the two comes barely a month after three other poachers were sentenced to jail for spawning the Hwange ecological disaster after poisoning water holes and salt pans with cyanide pellets, killing over 90 elephants.
An indeterminate number of other animals on the food chain could not ascertained, although quite a number could have been affected.
Robert Maposa (42), Thabani Zondo (24) and Dedani Tshuma (25) were sentenced to 16 years in prison each for illegal possession of ivory and contravening Section 73 (1) of the Environment Management Act that prohibits the possession and discharge of hazardous substances, chemicals, materials or oil into the environment.
They were further ordered to pay US$600 000 restitution to the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority by December 31.
Police have also arrested a six-man poaching syndicate with four of its members based in Bulawayo that allegedly poisoned and killed 41 elephants at Hwange National Park.
A total of 17 tusks valued at about $120 000 were recovered.
The six are brothers Sipho Mafu (53) and Misheck Mafu (46) of Thula Line in Tsholotsho, Alexander Ngwenya (42) of 7654/15 Tshabalala, Farai Chitsa (34) of A6297 Old Pumula, Nqobizitha Tshuma (25) of 14 Taylor Avenue in North End and Tinashe Senwayo (22) of 2 Hofmeyer Square also in North End.
The other suspect only identified as a teacher from Bulawayo was also arrested for possession of cyanide, a fast-acting poison that was stockpiled as a chemical weapon in the arsenals of both the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and that requires up to a generation to bio-degrade on a large scale.
Police in Hwange are having road blocks in all roads around the areas as they try to bring those behind the heinous slaying of elephants to book.
Parks authorities have also increased rangers and introduced air surveillance at the third largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa, and are recalling all former employees to assist.
The increase in poaching has been attributed to the illegal sanctions imposed on the country by Western powers that have incapacitated the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s surveillance system.