Zimbabwean courts hand long sentences to poachers, but condemn a ranger to hang
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2013: (Actually published on October 8, 2013)
HARARE––Sentencing three convicted elephant poachers to long prison terms and a game ranger to hang for shooting an alleged poacher, Zimbabwe courts appeared to send mixed messages about protecting elephants in late September 2013––but the facts leading to the death sentence may have been more nuanced than headlines that touched off a flurry of online petitions and activist alerts on behalf of ranger Maxwell Bowa, 53. First, on September 25, 2013 a provincial magistrate sentenced Diyane Tshuma, 25, to 16 years in prison for poisoning 91 elephants with cyanide in Hwange National Park, according to Spot FM radio. Alleged accomplices Robert Maphosa, 42, and Thabani Zondo, 24, each drew 15-year sentences. “Tshuma was ordered to pay $600,000 to the Zimbabwe Wildlife & Parks Authority for killing the animals, while Zondo must pay $200,000 by the end of the year,” said Agence France-Presse. “The three were among nine people arrested on suspicion of poisoning watering holes in the game park.” The poisonings the men were convicted of committing were discovered in early September 2013. The suspects were reportedly caught in possession of 17 elephant tusks. But similar poisoning incidents began at Hwange National Park in 2011, when nine elephants, five lions and two buffalo were killed with cyanide. Game ranger Bowa was convicted of murdering Lennon Nkosana, 29, on June 12, 2012, in an incident unrelated to the cyanide poisonings. According to the Harare Herald, which is closely aligned with the Zanu-PF political party of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, Bowa was among a 10-member ranger team who were seeking alleged ivory poacher Tanaka Nyoni in the Simchembo region of Gokwe in Midlands Province. “When the rangers and police failed to locate Nyoni, the court heard, they went to the Nkosana homestead where they allegedly tried to extract information on poachers by assaulting all those present, some hit with the butt of their guns,” the Harare Herald said. Lennon Nkosana, 29, who was not believed to be a poacher or involved in ivory trafficking, fled from the hut. Bowa allegedly shot Nkosana 10 times––or, some have suggested, took the rap after the whole team shot him. The Game Rangers Association of Africa “does not believe it has access to sufficient evidence to make judgement on this matter,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “The GRAA have made contact with our network in Zimbabwe and await further information.” The GRAA urged the public to “respect the facts around cases such as this and to operate with caution before jumping to emotional conclusions,” the statement added. “The GRAA recognises the difficult, stressful and dangerous conditions that Africa’s rangers are faced with on a daily basis in the war against poaching. The GRAA remains supportive of the strictest enforcement actions possible against poachers, but acknowledges that rangers need to act within the ambit of the law whilst carrying out their duties.” Formed in 1970, the GRAA is headquartered at Greenside, South Africa. Zimbabwe has not executed anyone since two convicted robbers and murders were hanged in 2005. Mugabe declared a shoot-to-kill policy against elephant poachers in 1984, four years after coming to power. At least 160 alleged poachers were killed in Zimbabwe during the dozen years that the policy remained in effect.