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Illegal cyanide imports fuel Zim poaching big business



AN illegal import of cyanide — a deadly fast-acting chemical — by criminal syndicates in Bulawayo has raised fears that Zimbabwe’s wildlife is now under growing threat of toxic poisons amid poaching and killing of animals for their body parts for profit.


A lot of animals are killed for their parts, for instance elephants for their tusks, rhinoceros for their horns and crocodiles for their skins. The parts are money-spinning in local and international markets, particularly Asia where ivory and rhino horns are popular.

Wildlife crime is a big business. Run by dangerous local and international networks, animal parts are trafficked much like illegal drugs and arms.

Wildlife trade escalates into a crisis when an increasing proportion is illegal and unsustainable — directly threatening the survival of many fauna species in the country. It is second only to habitat destruction, which affects flora and fauna, in overall, threats against species survival.

Southeast Asia, for example, is a wildlife trade hotspot, functioning as supplier, consumer and a general import-export emporium. Some of the products come from Africa through poaching.

Cyanide is widely used to facilitate killing and trade in animals.

In a grim reminder of the problem, police in Bulawayo were a few days ago alerted to an illegal and criminal import and storage of cyanide worth thousands of dollars at a warehouse around the city.

This was reported to police and the Environmental Management Agency (Ema) after owners of the company involved, Posryn Properties (Pvt) Ltd, which owns the warehouse, conducted an inventory update following the termination of a contract run by an erstwhile director.

Police and Ema have not moved with speed to deal with the problem, raising suspicions that some people want to sweep the cyanide scandal under the carpet.

Sources say former Posryn Properties director Marida Maria Magdalena Van Der Spuy, a South African national, had stored the cyanide illegally and in criminal contravention of health and safety laws on behalf of Wayne Jardine, a Bulawayo-based businessman and professional hunter, as well as his associate Li Song.

The cyanide was stored at 105 Plumtree Road which is owned by Posryn Properties. 
Transporting cyanide without a permit is illegal. Jardine says he does not own the chemical, but he arranged and oversaw its freight for Li Song.

Storing of the substance is also illegal. This makes Li Song and Marida answerable in this case.

As the use of cyanide becomes more prevalent in the artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector worldwide, miners, government regulators and other stakeholders need to urgently ensure safer cyanide use and management.

A growing body of evidence suggests that cyanidation is spreading from industrial gold mining to smaller mining operations, and now poaching. 

In the past decade, poisoning of wildlife waterholes in Zimbabwe has been rife.

In 2013, more than 300 elephants died in the Hwange National Park as a result of poachers lacing the park’s watering holes and salt licks with cyanide poison.

After that, Zimbabwean rangers in 2015 found bodies of 22 more elephants that were poisoned with cyanide.

The grim discovery brought to 62 the number of elephants poisoned by poachers around Hwange.

In 2016, five elephants were poisoned cyanide.

This trend was repeated throughout the decade and still persists at the moment.

Wildlife crimes continue to rise in the global, regional and local markets. The African region, among other developing countries, faces grave challenges in the conservation of wild animals, especially in relation to big game such as elephants and rhinoceros.

In Zimbabwe, thousands of specimen wildlife (plant, animal and bird) are lost to poachers annually. Among the commonly reported major wildlife crimes are the illicit trade in wildlife products, failure to comply with existing wildlife laws and the capturing of the near extinct pangolin.

However, Zimbabwe is a signatory to an International Treaty on the use and handling of cyanide. 

According to Zimbabwe’s Hazardous Substances Act, cyanide can only be sold to qualified customers in the mining and chemical industries by expert chemical distributors.

Most of these customers are gold miners who need to write documentary evidence that they have the right to hold and use cyanide. Qualified chemical distributors must obtain a license from the Mining and Mineral Development Department first.

The import and storage of cyanide in the Bulawayo scandal was unbeknown to the owner and co-directors of Posryn Properties as it was done some former employees. However, once the contraband was discovered, the company owners alerted authorities.

“Following the termination of a contract of one of our directors of the company, a routine inventory inspection was held to ascertain what was on site for the purposes of accounting. That is when the cyanide contraband was discovered in the process,” a Posryn Properties spokesperson said.

“Knowing it was a criminal offence, with no paperwork to trace how the toxic substance been bought and brought onsite, we made a report to the police and Ema. We also signalled our willingness to help in investigations, confiscation of the chemical by the state, moving it from our site and prosecution of those behind the illegal act.”

However, over a week after the report was made, the cyanide remained stored at the premises.

Reached for comment, Bulawayo investigating officer detective chief inspector Dube said he could not speak on his private phone, demanding he should be called on a landline. “This is my private number, call on the landline,” Dube said.

Professional hunter Wayne Jardine admitted to storing cyanide at the warehouse despite it being unfit for such storage.

Van Der Spuy on why she stored cyanide illegally and unprocedurally said: “The possession of untraceable and illegally stored cyanide is a problem, especially in Matabeleland, where clandestine use of the chemical has been a perennial problem; the substance is transported and housed below the radar of authorities to poison water bodies targeting elephants and other animals for their tusks and horns.

“This has not only caused massacres of elephants and other wildlife, but a domino effect on environment which could see death of other animals drinking from the same watering holes, as well as a myriad of other environmental problems.”

This year alone so far, six adult elephants were found dead in the Lupane area in a suspected case of cyanide poisoning by poachers and wildlife traders.

Decomposing carcasses of the elephants were discovered at a waterhole adjacent to Hwange National Park.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo confirmed the incident to The NewsHawks, indicating suspects have been arrested and would appear in court soon.

“We have an incident where six elephants were found dead in the Lupane area. Some suspects have been arrested and will be appearing in court soon,” he said.

“Our veterinary doctors are still investigating the cause of death, but we are dealing with the situation.”

Conservationists suspect cyanide as the watering hole was laced with the deadly substance. The removal of tusks confirmed that poaching was the motivation, as ivories are smuggled to the far-flung Asian market and elsewhere.

The stash of cyanide around Bulawayo and lack of adherence to storage and holding protocol raised serious concerns to the property owners, whose premise is being abused for criminality.

“The incidence of abuse of cyanide by criminal syndicates cannot be overemphasised, hence our report and our keen interest to follow up on how the cyanide is handled after it leaves our premises to ensure there is accountability for any wrongdoing and that the law takes its course,” a Posryn Properties spokesperson said.

Zimbabwe loses thousands of specimen wildlife (plant, animal and bird) to poachers yearly. Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the strategy to regulate it requires local and international cooperation to safeguard certain species from poaching and illicit trade.

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