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More poachers jailed as lawyers probe ‘torture’ claims
Alex Bell, SW Radio Africa
October 30, 2013

Two more men accused of poaching elephants in Zimbabwe were this week handed jail sentences, amid an ongoing crackdown that has followed the poisoning of dozens of elephants in the Hwange National Park.

Hwange magistrate Dambudzo Munati on Monday sentenced Isaac Phiri and Johanne Musaka to 11 years each in prison, after being arrested for elephant poaching in 2008. During the time of the pair’s arrest, more than 20 elephant tusks were recovered along with AK47 rifles.

Caroline Washaya-Moyo, the spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks), on Wednesday welcomed the sentence, saying such jail terms are a ‘deterrent’ to would-be poachers.

“We will continue to engage the judiciary to ensure that there is consistency in all wildlife cases brought before the courts. It is critical for the judiciary to ensure that cases are completed to send the proper message,” Washaya-Moyo told SW Radio Africa.

She added: “The message is that it doesn’t matter if you were arrested in 2006, in 2008 or now, deterrent sentences are still going to be passed.”

The latest sentencing follows similar jail terms handed to five other poachers, linked to the mass cyanide poisoning of elephants ion the National Park this year. The discovery of more than 80 elephant carcasses in late August prompted international condemnation. Since then, Zimparks has said that the number of elephants carcasses discovered has risen to just over 100.

Washaya-Moyo reiterated this on Wednesday, saying claims that more than 300 elephants had died as a result of the cyanide poisoning were unfounded.

“The official number of elephants that have died in Hwange National Park because of cyanide poisoning is 100. These are elephant carcasses that we have counted physically with our stakeholders,” Washaya-Moyo said.

Conservationists in Zimbabwe have countered this information, saying the figure is much higher. Johnny Rodrigues, the Chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF), said elephant carcasses were already being discovered in Hwange in July. He said that eyewitnesses, who flew over the park, counted hundreds of elephants and scores of other wildlife.

Rodrigues has also said that a “cover up” operation is underway at the park, amid ongoing claims that high-level government ministers could be involved in the poaching crisis.

Meanwhile, lawyers are reportedly probing the claims of torture made by a poaching suspect in Tsholotsho. Lot Zondo has said that and he and other villagers were tortured by Zimparks rangers, who accused them of being involved in the cyanide poisoning in Hwange.

Zondo was quoted by the Southern Eye publication that he has instituted legal proceedings against Zimparks with legal papers reportedly due to be filed over the weekend.

SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe's Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.

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