THE alarming death of elephants at the Hwange National Park at the hands of poachers has opened a Pandora’s box amid revelations that almost every household in Tsholotsho villages bordering the game sanctuary has large stocks of cyanide.
This was revealed by villagers on Friday during a meeting with a ministerial team set up by the government in the wake of the discovery of elephants carcasses now close to 100 at the country’s largest game reserve.
Several poachers have been arrested and they have revealed many interesting things including that they have been operating for over five years.
The poachers, it appears, easily managed to cover their tracks by paying corrupt police officers bribes.
However, the most disturbing dimension to the poaching scandal was revealed at the meeting between villagers under Chief Siphoso and the ministers.
The villagers admitted that they regularly use cyanide to ward off elephants that have become a menace in the area following the collapse of the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Camfire).
John Vumile Dube said since the collapse of Campfire the villagers had found it impossible to control the movement of elephants that were destroying their crops every season since 2009.
The use of cyanide was a last resort as people had become hapless, Dube said.
He pleaded with the police not to arrest villagers for possession of the deadly cyanide saying they had found ways of convincing them to surrender the poisonous substance.
The request was duly granted by the police and the villagers now have up to month end to surrender the poison.
However, we should point out that the Tsholotsho tragedy clearly demonstrates how the breakdown of initiatives such as Campfire and other government programmes would inevitably lead to social chaos and even death worse than the Hwange disaster.
Campfire had developed into an important conservation strategy that ensured significant financial earnings to rural communities in areas bordering game sanctuaries.
The conservation strategy ensured problem animals such as elephants were confined to game reserves and this minimised the animal and human conflict.
There is no arguing that Campfire collapsed because of the government’s overreliance on donors even for local solutions.
The government now has a challenge to ensure that Campfire is either revived or an alternative is found to avoid a repeat of the Hwange disaster.