BHEJANE Trust conservation officials shot and apprehended a suspected Zambian poacher in the Zambezi Park after he allegedly shot an elephant that was later found floating in the Zambezi River.
Bhejane Trust founder, Trevor Lane said the man, who is now receiving treatment at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo, said he had crossed into Zimbabwe to conduct a “hit and run” raid in one of the country’s estates.
He said sometime last month, his team comprising of Victoria Falls locals and lion researchers took a walk along the Liunga springline in the Zambezi Park after receiving a tip-off about lion activities along the spring.
That is when they encountered the poacher.
“Those of us who stayed behind then heard three shots, followed shortly after by two very rapid shots,” Lane narrated.
“It turned out the two members of our team had been in the thicket when shooting erupted nearby, and on investigating, they encountered an armed poacher. There was a rapid exchange of fire, and the poacher went down with a .458 slug through his leg just above the knee.
“The poacher had just fired three shots into an elephant, which had run off wounded – we were unable to follow the elephant over the rocky terrain, and two days later an elephant was found floating dead in the Zambezi – we suspect this is the same one.”
He said the poacher claimed he had been sent by a “kingpin” based in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
“We then unloaded his weapon, dragged him into the shade. I had a good chance to interrogate him, and he admitted he had two accomplices with him who had escaped,” Lane continued.
“They had crossed into Zimbabwe at one o’clock the previous night and planned to shoot an elephant, chop off the tusks and head straight back out – basically a hit and run tactic now used by the Zambians due to the losses they have suffered from Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority ( Zimparks) patrols.
“He claimed this was his first time poaching, but he was obviously an old hand. His shoes had plastic fur glued to the bottom for anti-tracking.
“The poacher was casevaced to Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo. Zimparks Investigations subsequently crossed into Zambia and met with their counterparts there, and they then followed up on the incident and came up with a wealth of information. It turned out that the wounded poacher was a notorious poacher, who had been poaching for years. His wife showed the team where he hid his rifle, and told them he loaned money from his ivory sales to locals at 50% interest.”
Zimparks also found the names of the local poaching co-ordinator in the area, and of the boatmen, who ferried the poachers across the river.
Zimparks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo said they will continue to engage with their Zambian counterparts to map a way forward, as many poachers caught in the parks were from Zambia.
Zimbabwe is second largest elephant breeder with an estimated population of 80 000 after Botswana.