A top police officer has been implicated in the poisoning of some of the dozens of elephants killed recently in Hwange in northern Zimbabwe, state media reported on Sunday.
The Sunday Mail said an assistant commissioner of police is under investigation for his involvement in a “huge and powerful syndicate” which was ordering the killings.
Police have already arrested a junior police officer and a senior officer from the state ‘s Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), the newspaper said. Their names were not given.
The paper claimed that Asian businessmen had sourced the cyanide from gold mines (where it is used in extraction processes) and “were the kingpins behind the indiscriminate poaching”.
More than 60 elephants have been poisoned since September with cyanide, almost all of them in and near Hwange National Park, a vast game reserve roughly the size of Switzerland where Cecil the lion lived.
He was shot by a US dentist in July, provoking global outrage.
Three elephants have also been poisoned with cyanide-laced oranges in the resort town of Kariba, though that crime appeared to have been carried out by disgruntled residents.
The killings have brought back terrible memories of a similar mass poisoning in Hwange in which up to 200 elephants died.
Zimparks acting spokesperson Tawanda Gotosa told the Sunday Mail: “I can confirm that some arrests were made and one of our camp managers was suspended.”
Many in the conservation sector have fiercely defended the reputation of most of Zimbabwe’s lower-ranking state rangers in the wake of the poisoning scandal.
The independent Bhejane Trust, which operated in Hwange and Victoria Falls, confirmed that the Zimparks managers of Sinamatella and Hwange Main camps in Hwange National Park had been suspended.
But the group said that allegations that lower-ranking rangers might have got involved due to a simple dispute over low pay, were “sensationalistic.”
The Sunday Mail said that suspicions of Zimparks involvement arose after it emerged that rangers last Sunday were supposed to be guarding the only recently-detoxified water hole at Sinamatella.
But the hole was poisoned again, and 23 elephants died.
But separate reports – including on the state ZBC broadcaster – said the poachers only got away with three tusks because they were surprised by the rangers’ patrol.
The Friends of Hwange Trust said in relation to the Sunday Mail’s claims of police and ranger involvement: “This report is somewhat garbled and some statements alleged still make no sense.”
“But it seems action is being taken to bust and bring the culprits to book,” the trust said in an update to Facebook.
Wildlife expert George Pangeti told the Standard newspaper that poachers operating in Zimbabwe were mostly from Zimbabwe and Zambia, with a few from Mozambique. “There have always been poachers but now they are using dangerous means,” he was quoted as saying.