ZELA Statement on the Killing of Elephants in Gwayi – Shangani Conservancy

DATE OF ISSUE: 15 January 2024

The poaching crisis emerges as a formidable threat to elephants and wildlife resources both in Zimbabwe and globally. Tragically, poaching is intricately linked to illicit wildlife trade, posing a severe danger to the survival of the iconic species. If not promptly addressed, the repercussions of poaching could result in a significant decline of elephant populations pushing these iconic majestic creatures toward the brink of extinction. The recent poaching incident involving six elephants in the Gwayi-Shangani Conservancy unfolds against a backdrop of escalating illegal wildlife trade and wildlife crimes worldwide. This incident is reminiscent of a tragic event in 2013 when over 80 elephants were poisoned in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’s largest game reserve. The incident underscores the persistent activities of poaching within Zimbabwe, indicating an ongoing and pressing issue that demands immediate attention.

Ironically, this incident should also serve as a reminder to legislators and responsible authorities about the urgency to expedite the review process of the Parks and Wildlife Act, the principal wildlife legislation in the country mandated with combating elephant poaching and other wildlife crimes. The provisions pertaining to the unlawful hunting of elephants or the illicit removal of meat from elephants are currently accompanied by sentences that, regrettably, lack the necessary deterrent impact. Specifically, in cases of hunting offences of species not classified as specially protected, within various categorized protected areas, the penalties prescribed consist of either a fine, imprisonment not exceeding two years, or a combination of both a fine and imprisonment. This leniency raises concerns about the effectiveness of the existing legal framework in deterring such activities and underscores the need for a critical reevaluation of the penalties associated with these offences.  This further underscores the urgent requirement for the country to promptly develop and implement comprehensive wildlife legal instruments that are robust enough to effectively combat and deter the poaching of wildlife resources.

The celebrated abundance of elephants in Zimbabwe has paradoxically transformed into a curse. The significant elephant population has become an attractive target for wildlife crime syndicates, making our country a hotspot for elephant poaching. A flourishing elephant population holds, environmental/ecological, economic and social benefits for Zimbabwe.

ZELA recognizes the pivotal role played by law enforcement agents, in combating poaching and wildlife crimes, and we understand that their efforts alone cannot eradicate poaching. The fight against poaching demands resilience and collaboration from all stakeholders interested in protecting elephants and all wildlife resources in Zimbabwe. We acknowledge that communities serve as the primary line of defense against poaching and wildlife crimes. Consequently, ZELA continues to call upon further investment by government, private actors, and civil society in are implementing various initiatives to equip communities with the necessary skills to mitigate and prevent wildlife crime while promoting conservation of the wildlife resources. We call upon these actors to innovate around use of digital technology for establishing mechanisms for community wildlife crime monitoring, reporting and follow-up. The pivotal role of technology in combatting wildlife crime cannot be overstated. We earnestly urge the government and other developmental partners in the sector to increase investments in the cutting-edge technology. Such advancements will significantly enhance the monitoring of animal movements and the early detection of wildlife crimes.

ZELA is collaborating with other community-based organizations (CBOs) and NGOs in fighting poaching and wildlife crimes. As a collective, we are complementing government efforts in fighting poaching and other wildlife crimes. ZELA is complimenting government efforts to combat wildlife crime through conducting capacity building for law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and judicial officers in combating poaching. The convening of multi-stakeholder platforms to discuss issues related to wildlife conservation and the combating of wildlife crimes is also key and presents a platform whereby innovative and meaningful solutions can be brought to the table by all parties involved. ZELA convenes such platforms to aid the fight against elephant poaching and other wildlife crimes.

We firmly believe that a comprehensive approach, involving a full arsenal of skills and tools, community stewardship and a robust wildlife legal framework, will significantly strengthen the fight against elephant poaching and other wildlife crimes in Zimbabwe!

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