Walter Nyamukondiwa and Samantha Chigogo
In a tragic turn of events, two Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority rangers shot and killed two men who had offered their colleagues a ride during an anti-poaching operation in the Mana Pools game area.
The rangers reportedly mistook the two for poachers and opened fire, killing them on the spot near the Nyakasikana Gate in the Marongora area.
Police arrested two of the rangers who are now assisting with investigations and they are likely to be charged with culpable homicide.
Tragedy struck on Sunday at around 2pm during an anti-poaching operation involving parks game rangers, when a relief team was mistaken for poachers.
Mashonaland West police spokesperson Inspector Clemence Mabgweazara confirmed the incident adding that investigations are still in progress.
“We can confirm that two people were shot dead on Sunday at around 2pm. They were shot after being mistaken for poachers,” he said.
The two Claudio Chiarelli (66) and his son Massimillian (29) offered rangers a ride who were going to relieve other rangers on patrol.
The first team had been trekking footprints of suspected poachers and had signalled for a relief team from their base.
The relief team was offered a ride by the Chiarellis who run Buzz Tour Operating company in the Marongora area.
“However, the rangers who were already on patrol heard some voices upon reaching the agreed meeting place and they thought they were poachers,” said Insp Mabgweazara.
The rangers had earlier come across a place where the suspected poachers had been preparing food and left.
They followed their footprints which led them to an area near Nyakasikana Gate where they heard some voices and started firing randomly.
The gunshots resulted in the death of the father and son on the spot.
On arriving at the meeting point, the two disembarked from the Toyota Land Cruiser and stood in front of the vehicle.
“They started talking while waiting for the other rangers who had been on patrol to arrive,” he said.
“However, when they heard the voices of the two, they opened fire killing them on the spot.”
They went to the scene only to realise it was their ranger colleagues with the two dead bodies.
The other rangers and one Marconati Francesco who remained in the car were not injured.
Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe president, Mr Emmanuel Fundira, also confirmed the tragic incident.
“Claudio Chiarelli, who was an accomplished professional hunter who brought European tourists to Zimbabwe, was accidentally shot together with his son and they both died,” he said.
“Claudio and some colleagues were on a trip with a parks anti-poaching unit when a ranger came from nowhere and shot at them while they were standing outside their vehicle.”
Mr Fundira said the incident was a “regrettable mistake” following the ranger’s misjudgment of what was happening when he fired the shots.
“We understand it was a case of mistaken identity,” he said. “Private individuals regularly assist the Zimbabwean parks department’s anti-poaching activities by providing logistical support for patrols.”
An official from the Italian embassy, who preferred anonymity, said the deceased were reportedly from Padua, and had lived and done business in Zimbabwe since 1982.
“We can confirm what happened at Mana Pools National Park on Sunday, but we are not aware of the exact details,” said the official.
“We are in contact with the family, and it’s a tragedy to them considering the loss of both a father and a son.”
The bodies of the deceased were taken to Karoi district hospital for post-mortems, while the matter was reported at Chirundu police station.
Efforts to get comment from Parks public relations manager Mrs Caroline Washaya-Moyo were fruitless yesterday.