After a newspaper reported that several police officers were under investigation for elephant poaching, the government of Zimbabwe promptly arrested the reporters responsible for the story.
Over the past few months, poachers have used cyanide to kill 60 elephants in Zimbabwe, particularly in Hwange National Park.
The Sunday Mail, a newspaper based out of Harare, Zimbabwe, recently published an article reporting that several people have been arrested and an assistant police commissioner, a police officer, and several rangers from the parks agency are currently under investigation for elephant poaching.
Shortly after publishing the story, the Zimbabwean police arrested Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa and reporters Tinashe Farawo and Brian Chitemba for publishing false statements that were prejudicial to the state. If convicted, they could face a fine of up to $5,000 or up to 20 years in prison.
According to Charity Charamba, a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) national spokeswoman:
The falsehoods have dented and tarnished the image of the (police) organization for no apparent reason. The story does not only affect ZRP but the entire security apparatus.
She also denied that any police officers or members of the parks agency were under investigation for elephant poaching.
Something seems suspicious about this turn of events. Rumors have been coming out of Zimbabwe for months that government officials, particularly the police, are responsible for a significant portion of the elephant poaching in Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, if you read the article in question by the Sunday Mail, Charity Charamba (the same police spokeswoman quoted above), confirmed that several police officers and park rangers were arrested in connection with the elephant poaching incident and said that investigations were continuing.
Additionally, Tawanda Gotosa, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said in the Sunday Mail article that:
I can confirm that some arrests were made and one of our camp managers was suspended.
There are many questionable facets of this story.
First, the police confirm that they have arrested some police officers in connection with the elephant poaching and are investigating others. Then, the police arrest the reporters who publish a story containing the statements of the police and the exact same spokeswoman for the ZRP turns around and essentially says “no police officials were involved in the poaching cases.”
The Government of Zimbabwe already has a skeptical reputation and stories like this do nothing to change that image.
Unfortunately, this turn of events also signals that the rampant elephant poaching in Zimbabwe will likely continue for the foreseeable future.