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SOS Rhino : In the News : Three Poachers Killed, One Arrested

Three Poachers Killed, One Arrested


Tawanda Kanhema
The Herald (Harare)

July 14, 2003--THE poaching war in Gwaai Conservancy has seen at least four rhinos and 20 painted hunting dogs killed in the past two months, with game scouts fighting back and killing three poachers and arresting one who surrendered.

The four poachers are suspected to be Zambians.

Painted Dog Conservation Trust project manager Mr Peter Blinston said there has been an alarming escalation in the level of poaching recently, with two study packs of painted dogs, comprising about 20 dogs, having been wiped out in the past week.

"In the past 18 months, we have lost at least 31 dogs in the Gwaai Conservancy area, which ought to have a dog population of above 60. The poaching is occurring at a very worrying scale," he said.

Painted hunting dogs or wild dogs are one of Africa's most endangered species with a mere 3,000 remaining out of 500,000 in 1900.

Hunters and poachers kill the dog, a prolific hunter, mainly for its heart and liver, which they believe will enhance their hunting skills.

"We are at such a critical point that in six months there will be nothing," zoologist Mr Gregory Rasmussen, who has been working on the conservation project since 1989, said.

"There is poaching like I have never seen in 13 years. If it continues like this there will be nothing in the buffer zone."
Police in Gwaai found one of the protective collars put on the dogs at a farm worker's house after an anti-poaching team had noticed inconsistencies in the dogs' movements and traced radio signals from one of the missing dogs' collars.

Animals that survive poachers' snares are often found with deep cuts on their necks usually inflicted by the wires used to make the snares.

In some cases elephants have been found with severed trunks.

"If the poaching doesn't stop then the value of national parks and subsequently tourism will go down," Mr Rasmussen said.

He noted that poaching has the capability to completely undermine the model A2 resettlement scheme.

"The A2 scheme had the objective to make people gain value from the resources but poachers are destroying the wealth," he said.

Reports from other parts of the country also indicate that many other species have been seriously affected in the past 18 months, including elephants, giraffe and the endangered black rhinos.

Four rhinos are reported to have been killed in the Sinamatella area in the Hwange National Park in the past two months, bringing the number of black rhinos killed since September last year to 11.

"It is a very worrying situation," said the head of the anti-poaching team, Mr Sikhosana Sibanda.

"If things continue in this way we will be out of the job in three months . . . there will be no anti-poaching to do."

In 2002 alone, poachers killed about 595 impala, 340 kudu, seven giraffes, six elephants and one black rhino.

According to estimates by the Zimbabwe Wildlife Producers Association, half of the country's wildlife has been killed in the past two years.

Mr Blinston blamed the escalation in the level of poaching on the recent drought and high levels of unemployment.

"Added to that is the problem of absentee landlords," he said.

"Most of the surrounding farms are manned by inexperienced staff who often resort to game as a source of food."

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