Sus­pi­cion dogs Zim rangers

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

HARARE — The ranger wait­ing to help us to find the rhi­nos in Zim­babwe’s Kyle Recre­ational Park was in cam­ou­flage.

Ri­fle along­side her, she stood on the open truck, scan­ning the bleached long grasses near the edge of Lake Mu­tirikwi for the tell-tale grey shad­ows that be­tray the graz­ing spots of some of Africa’s most en­dan­gered an­i­mals.

Rangers in this rel­a­tively small park in south­ern Zim­babwe are fiercely pro­tec­tive of the an­i­mals here, mount­ing a 24-hour guard.

That of­ten means camp­ing out next to them.

“But the tents we bought for the rangers were not good qual­ity,” an­other ranger ex­plained on a visit ear­lier this year. “They didn’t last.”

Al­le­ga­tions that dis­grun­tled low-rank­ing mem­bers of the Zim­babwe Parks and Wildlife Man­age­ment Author­ity (Zim­parks) may be be­hind the poi­son­ings with cyanide of 62 ele­phants in Hwange and Kariba are caus­ing con­ster­na­tion.

One of the big­gest plea­sures in hol­i­day­ing in Zim­babwe’s na­tional parks is meet­ing and talk­ing to rangers from Zim­parks. Work­ing in of­ten dif­fi­cult con­di­tions for about the same pay as a teacher in pub­lic ser­vice (around $500 US per month), they are ex­tremely loyal to the game they pro­tect.

Last week, Zim­parks man­ager Tawanda Go­tosa stressed the “sac­ri­fice and ded­i­ca­tion to duty” of Zim­babwe’s rangers, while con­firm­ing that two former con­tract work­ers were un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for one case of poi­son­ing.

“We are cer­tainly not the best nei­ther are we the worst-paid con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion,” Go­tosa told the South­ern Eye news­pa­per.

“We al­ways act swiftly to deal with mal­con­tents,” he added.

The Friends of Hwange, an in­de­pen­dently-run con­ser­va­tion sup­port group also de­fended state rangers, stress­ing in a state­ment last Fri­day that none of the staff at Si­na­matella — the site of two poi­son­ing in­ci­dents in Hwange in re­cent weeks — had been im­pli­cated.

“In both cases, poach­ers were dis­turbed by parks pa­trols and fled,” the group said, adding that the poach­ers were tracked “to­wards the bound­ary of the park.” This would sug­gest that the poach­ers in those in­ci­dents were not rangers, since they are ac­com­mo­dated within Hwange.

Sadly this is not the first mass poi­son­ing in­ci­dent in Hwange: two years ago, in 2013, a spate of dev­as­tat­ing poi­son­ings left around 200 (some re­ports say 300) ele­phants dead.

There were ar­rests in the wake of those poi­son­ings — and they were not of rangers. Al­most all of them were of vil­lagers liv­ing around Hwange. They were the ones who laid the cyanide on the salt-licks near the wa­ter­ing holes: the ones on the low­est link of what was al­most cer­tainly then, like now, a care­fully-crafted chain of com­mand stretch­ing down from un­named — and no doubt still free — “big­wigs”, as the lo­cal press calls them.

Hwange vil­lagers may have been paid just 100 US per tusk they col­lected but that rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant wind­fall. Com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing around na­tional parks are of­ten low-in­come.

Sus­pi­cions over the pos­si­ble in­volve­ment of parks em­ploy­ees were fu­elled by the ar­rest in the first week of Oc­to­ber of three parks em­ploy­ees — two rangers and an ecol­o­gist — at Harare In­ter­na­tional Air­port, where they were ap­par­ently try­ing to smug­gle tusks out. The of­fi­cial Her­ald news­pa­per re­ported that the tusks had been stolen from a strong room at the author­ity’s Hwange head­quar­ters at Main Camp.

Zim­babwe’s rangers haven’t al-

ways en­joyed a good rep­u­ta­tion, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the 2000-8 cri­sis. That was partly to do with the con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of “ra­tion-hunt­ing”, when em­ploy­ees were or­dered to shoot game for food for state oc­ca­sions or for the work­force. One Bri­tish woman speaks of her hor­ror when she vis­ited Kyle Recre­ational Park in 2007 to see a parks truck loaded with freshly shot game. She and her fam­ily have never been back.

There are oc­ca­sion­ally whis­pered poach­ing al­le­ga­tions against one or more se­nior parks em­ploy­ees — but mostly, rangers en­joy a good press.

Rory Young, who has trained state rangers in anti-poach­ing skills in cen­tral, south­ern, east­ern and western Africa said in a tele­phone in­ter­view: “The Zim parks of­fi­cers are among the best I have worked with.

“They are re­source­ful and skilled and their suc­cesses are... all the more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing the shock­ing lack of financial and other resources they have to work with,” Young added.

— News24

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