CITES chief to meet Mugabe over poaching
HARARE – CITES secretary general Willem Wijnstekers is expected in Zimbabwe next month for talks with President Robert Mugabe over rampant poaching decimating wildlife in the southern African country and said to involve top politicians and army officials.
A senior official at the government’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management told ZimOnline that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) official was also expected to meet Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, police chief Augustine Chihuri and Attorney General Johannes Tomana.
Wijnstekers will discuss with Mnangagwa the alleged involvement of senior military officers in poaching while he seeks to establish from Chihuri and Tomana security measures put in place to curb illegal killing of protected wildlife and measures taken against those caught poaching including the levels of sentencing.
“CITES secretary general Willem Wijnstekers will be visiting Zimbabwe next month,” said the wildlife official, who spoke on condition he was not named.
The official said CITES has made it clear ahead of Wijnstekers’ visit that it was concerned at “the high levels of poaching of endangered species in the country”.
The official said: “Wijnstekers has indicated that he wants to meet the defence minister because of the alleged involvement of senior army officials in poaching. He wants to meet the police commissioner and the attorney general to get a clear picture on the levels of sentencing imposed and also discuss what sort of deterrent measures can be put in place against poachers.”
According to the government official the exact dates of meetings between Wijnstekers and Zimbabwe officials were expected to be finalised during the United Nations climate summit underway in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Poaching has been rife in Zimbabwe since landless black villagers began invading – with tacit approval from the government – white-owned farms and game conservancies over the past nine years.
Some of the country’s biggest state-owned nature and game conservancies including Gonarezhou national park that forms part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier straddling across Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa have large parts occupied by villagers.
In many cases farm invaders poach animals for meat and cut down trees for sale as firewood mostly to people living in urban areas.
But there has also been an upsurge in the poaching of endangered species such as the rhino targeted for its horn that is exported mainly to China and Vietnam where it is in huge demand. International syndicates working with local gangs are said to be behind rhino poaching.
A joint-report released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, about two weeks ago estimated that Zimbabwe’s rhino population had declined by an alarming 14.7 percent since 2007 due to poaching.
There have also been reports of illegal and uncontrolled trophy hunting on former white-owned conservancies now controlled by powerful government officials and members of Mugabe’s ZANU PF party politicians.
The government however denies politicians are illegally hunting game and insists it still has poaching under control. – ZimOnline