The Sunday News
THE Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has opened investigations to establish possible ivory smuggling out of the country after 62 tusks were intercepted at the Harare International Airport destined for China.
The attempted smuggling which has led to the arrest of Hwange Main Camp ecologist Edwin Tendai Makuwe and two rangers John Pedzi and Masimba Nyoni, has raised fears the country could be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars through smuggling of ivory.
In July, South African authorities at the OR Tambo International Airport seized more than 200kg of ivory valued at R4 million after finding the tusks in the cargo section destined for Vietnam from Zimbabwe.
Makuwe, who resides at Hwange Main Camp, was not asked to plead to fraud involving four of the tusks worth $14 125 when he appeared before Hwange magistrate Mrs Portia Mhlanga-Moyo last week. Makuwe, who was represented by Mr Thulani Nkala of Dube and Company, was released on $600 bail. He was ordered to surrender his travel documents, report at Dete Police Station twice a week and not to interfere with witnesses as part of his bail conditions.
He returns to court on 23 October while investigations are still going on the involvement of his alleged accomplices Nyoni (36) and Pedzi (41). While four of the tusks were traced back to Hwange Main Camp where they were signed for by Makuwe, investigations have been opened to establish the origins of the other 57 and another one which was labelled as “natural” death, according to details given to investigators by Parks and Wildlife.
Prosecuting, Mr Tomupei Mbiza told how Makuwe allegedly connived with Nyoni and Pedzi to steal ivory from the Main Camp closet. It is alleged that Makuwe swapped tusks that had been packed with lighter ones and went on to steal the heavier ones which he and his alleged syndicate wanted to smuggle.
“During the month of July at Hwange Main Camp the accused took four heavier elephant tusks and swapped them with four lighter ones. The heavier tusks weighed between 12kg and 16kg while the lighter ones weighed between 1,2kg and 5kg,” Mr Mbiza said.
It is alleged that Makuwe and his alleged accomplices then altered the mass and lengths of the original tusks in an ivory register. Evidence linking Makuwe to the crime is that the tusks and altered register bearing his signature were recovered. The matter came to light on 29 August when a man was arrested at the Harare International Airport with the 62 tusks, four of them marked with Hwange Main Camp number while one was labelled as having taken from a jumbo that died of natural causes.
It was discovered that there were some alterations on the register of the tusks leading to the arrest of Makuwe, Nyoni and Pedzi. Parks and Wildlife suspect the other 57 tusks could have also come from Hwange Main Camp or any other protected game area. This comes at a time when authorities bumped onto carcases of 11 elephants at two separate sites near Hwange Main Camp and at Sinamatela recently, raising fears of fresh cyanide poison inspired poaching.