Poaching: Villagers should not be victimised

Trail of desctruction: One of the worst incidents of poaching has left more than 90 elephants dead

REPORTS that Tsholotsho villagers under Chief Siphoso have not handed any cyanide stocks they are reportedly keeping at their homes following an ultimatum by a government taskforce early this month show that finding a solution to the alarming poaching activities at the Hwange National Park will not be easy.

A fortnight ago, villagers — through a community leader Vumile Dube — appealed to be given up to the end of the month to surrender the poison that has been blamed for the mass deaths of elephants at the game reserve.

Dube told a delegation of ministers and police officers who had visited the area to investigate the poaching activities that villagers were using cyanide to trap elephants straying from the game reserve to destroy their crops.

He said once the villagers were assured that they would not be arrested, the poisonous substance would be handed over to Chief Siphoso.

However, the chief on Tuesday revealed that with a few days remaining before the deadline, no one had surrendered the cyanide to him.

This is despite the fact that the traditional leader had held a meeting with the villagers pleading with them to surrender the poison.

The development points to a serious problem with the government’s response to what has been described as the worst poaching case in recent history.

It would appear the government was in a hurry to limit the damage caused by the deaths of the elephants in large numbers on its image rather getting to the bottom of the matter.

Instead of issuing ultimatums to villagers who have been terrorised by the elephants for years and had their crops destroyed season after season, the government should direct its energy towards finding a lasting solution to the problem.

The government should be making it unnecessary for villagers to keep the cyanide at their homes to ward off the elephants.

One thing that has emerged clearly is that poaching syndicates are taking advantage of the poverty in areas bordering the Hwange National Park to recruit villagers to do their dirty work while they reap all the ill-gotten rewards.

The people of Tsholotsho should not be treated as criminals in this matter, but as victims.

Solutions to the poaching problem would not be as easy as issuing an ultimatum and the government needs to do a lot of soul-searching on this issue.