Zimbabwe’s poor ranger salaries threaten wildlife conservation
By Calvin Manika for Community Podium News
The low salaries paid to rangers who patrol and protect Zimbabwe’s flagship national park leave wildlife under increased threat from poaching investigations by Community Podium.
Rampant poaching in Hwange National Park in the northwest of the country has led to the decline of all the “Big Five” – elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and buffaloes in unclear circumstances.
Today, some game wardens, whose duty is to protect wildlife, are increasingly presented as perpetrators and accomplices in poaching due to underpayment and poor working conditions.
During patrols, rangers reportedly killed animals, particularly buffaloes and elephants, for meat to sell in nearby villages and towns.
An initiate who spoke under the cover of anonymity said that the wrong working conditions forced the forest guards to end.
“Better conditions could reduce poaching for food and profit. Recently a ranger and a policeman were arrested for illegal ivory trafficking…Staff morale is low and salary delays are common due to declining tourism due to the aftermath of Covid restrictions,” a- he added.
Charles Moyo (pseudonym), a former employee of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority stationed at Hwange National Park for years, said the biggest challenges facing rangers were armed poachers who posed a threat to the life, and the rangers’ own temptations to engage in poaching because their employer pays them very little while they protect valuable wildlife.
Community Podium traveled to Tsholotsho, near the border with Botswana, which is part of Hwange National Park where poaching is also rampant despite Zimparks bases in the area at Makona and Whitehilla.
Another source, One Pfende (pseudonym) pointed out that because of their isolation, these bases have become poaching shelters for managers of the fauna conservation system.
However, Pfende exonerated some of the Zimparks employees for their honesty in avoiding corruption.
“Not everyone is involved in fraudulent transactions or poaching. Some of the park rangers do their best to make an honest living under adverse conditions,” he said.
In 2014, two Zimparks rangers, Shepherd Mukombwe and Chrispen Tungwarara, stationed at Zambezi camp, appeared in court for breaching the Parks and Wildlife Act after skinning a bushbuck that was run over and killed by a car, and began to share the meat. They were fined US$70 (£56) each or seven weeks in jail.
The following year, in 2015, five officials appeared in a Hwange Magistrate’s Court on various charges, including theft and possession of a firearm without a licence.
The officials were also found with a lion’s head and its skin. The magistrate refused them bail on the grounds that the officials were in danger of fleeing and remanded them in custody. They were Mascot Mbabavi, a policeman stationed near Bulawayo and a member of the Delta Troop of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Support Unit; Anymore Sikuka (37), a soldier stationed with the 1.2 Infantry Battalion in Hwange; Kissmore Munsaka, a ranger; and Victoria Falls Hospital staff members Vester Chimidzi and Buuya Sikuka.
The case ended five years later in 2020 and the suspects escaped a nine-month prison sentence after a Victoria Falls magistrate slapped them with a fine of ZWL2,400 (US$) each for to have been found in possession of a lion trophy.
In December 2015, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority carried out a massive transfer and redeployment of rangers who operated in Hwange National Park.
Then-acting spokesman Tawanda Gotosa confirmed the action and was quoted as referring to it as a routine transfer. However, sources with knowledge of the matter revealed that the transfers were affected shortly after Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah
Muchinguri-Kashiri, had recorded his lack of trust in park rangers after five rangers were arrested in Hwange National Park for allegedly poisoning 11 elephants with cyanide.
In 2018, a secret police operation in Dete, which shelters the main camp of the Hwange National Park, revealed Rangers who spied on poachers. “… they monitored the deployment and the movements of their colleagues and communicated them to the poachers of their union,” said a former forest ranger.
On January 11, 2020, Munashe Marumisa, a ranger, was arrested at his compound at Katombora camp in Zimparks on suspicion of poaching after police searched the house following a tip-off and discovered three guns and metal snares in her house. He was suspected of being part of a group of five people, including a soldier, a policeman and another ranger who were arrested in November 2019 after being found in possession of firearms and various trophies from different wild animals. . Marumisa pleaded not guilty of the two charges, saying that police had placed firearms and metal collars in his house. The case is still pending in court in Vic Falls.
In April 2022, a Zimbabwe National Parks ranger at Sinamatela Camp in Hwange National Park and a police officer stationed at the Police Support Unit barracks at Chikurubi in Harare were arrested along with a former police officer after he was caught selling elephant tusks in Greendale, an upscale suburb of the capital, Harare.
Simibio Kakomo and Shepherd Musiniwa appeared in Harare Magistrates’ Court where they were jointly charged with unlawful possession of elephant tusks. CID Minerals Detectives,
Fauna and Flora Unit Harare, acting on a tip-off, pretended to be shoppers in order to catch the two. Both suspects have pleaded not guilty and the trial is continuing. Detectives recovered eight pieces of ivory weighing 28.35 kilograms worth US$4,819.50 (£3,850), equivalent to ZWL$703,574 at the time.
A visit to Hwange National Park by Community Podium revealed that some rangers were also involved in fish poaching, particularly at the Ngwehla Dam.
“Bison hunting is now considered a sport. Almost all rangers on patrol illegally hunt buffaloes as a daily relish supplement in the bush, in homes and for sale to supplement their insufficient salaries,” Moyo said.
At one point, Zimparks was forced to sell hunting licenses for around 500 elephant hunts to pay salaries and meet national park maintenance expenses.
Rangers earn around ZWL$29,460 per month, which translates to US$58.92 (£48) per month on the widely used parallel market.
Contacted several times to comment on poaching by rangers, Zimparks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo promised to get back to this reporter, but did not. He also did not respond to questions sent to him. However, in a recent interview with a local publication, Farawo said that as an organization, Zimparks since 2017 had to think outside the box to meet its conversational obligations.
This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism program, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Read the original story here:
From news to politics, travel to sport, culture to climate – The Independent offers a wealth of free newsletters tailored to your interests. To find the stories you want to read, and more, in your inbox, click here.