In November 2015, Zimbabwe’s minister of environment warned poachers that their activities were to be curtailed. “Zimbabwe is taking poaching very seriously,” she told the press.
Since then, joint operations have scored successes across the country. Reinforcing just how serious the country is, a court judge has handed down an incredible thirty-five-year sentence on one poacher in the town of Masvingo.
Conservationists have praised the government officials involved in the arrests and prosecution of the accused.
Sentences for poaching have historically been capped at around nine years or less. The Zimbabwean Chronicle Newspaper reported that the accused is a man named Tawengwa Machona. Machona was part of a poaching gang who were involved in the killing of two rhinos in the Save Valley Conservancy in the southeast of the country.
In 1991, it was estimated that Zimbabwe had the world’s largest population of black rhinos. By 2015, their rhino numbers had declined to behind those of South Africa, Namibia, and Kenya. Save Valley and Bubye Valley Conservancies (who are supported by Trusts and conservation organizations such as the Lowveld Rhino Program) are working hard to increase rhino populations.
Deterrent sentencing in Zimbabwe is a big step in the right direction. In the past, poachers have served lesser sentences, which did little to stop the poaching gangs from taking the risk of arrest. In Machona’s case, the Magistrate, Langton Ndokera said,"You deserve a deterrent sentence so that you can be a reformed person when you come out of prison.”
Two other gang members were also arrested and will stand trial separately. Two others are in hiding from police. The gang leader is suspected to be a member of the Zimbabwe Secret Police (CIO). The organization has long been rumored to be involved in elephant tusks and rhino horn poaching.
In June 2015, Rory Young, the conservationist who had been working in training anti-poaching teams in Africa, fled Zimbabwe after he was detained for questioning and threatened by the CIO. At the time, he said that the secret service agents were hampering his anti-poaching efforts, as they themselves were involved in the poaching and trafficking of wild animals.