FOLLOWING the success story of Uganda, which established a wildlife-dedicated court in 2017, specialising in wildlife-related cases, Speak Out for Animals (SOFA) believes a similar move in Zimbabwe will go a long way in addressing challenges in wildlife cases.
For a long time, wildlife cases in Zimbabwe have been addressed in the main courts, which in many cases are overwhelmed and have a huge backlog of unsolved cases. The result has been that wildlife cases are mostly put on the back banner and take longer to be attended.
SOFA senior advocate, Ever Chinoda said having a wildlife court would speed up wildlife cases while simultaneously showing the country’s seriousness in the protection and conservation of wildlife.
SOFA is a woman-led legal organisation that fights for animal law. It has been working with different stakeholders including law enforcement agents, Zimbabwe National Parks (ZimParks) officials, magistrates, and public prosecutors through trainings that advocate for the appreciation and understanding of wildlife law in Zimbabwe and Africa.
Due to Zimbabwe’s protracted economic crisis spamming more than two decades wildlife crimes, including poaching and illegal trading have been ballooning across the country.
On average, Zimbabwean courts receive 40 cases of poaching and fishing offences monthly.
Chinoda believes having a dedicated court, manned by experts, would improve the wildlife law chain.
From 2019 to 2021, SOFA conducted trainings in Harare, Bulawayo, and Masvingo. The organisation trained 76 public prosecutors, 20 magistrates as well as 28 Zim Parks and Forestry Commission officers.
“Therefore, considering that as a wildlife-led legal organisation we managed to train several stakeholders involved in wildlife crime issues, I believe it is now practical to have a specialised wildlife court,” said Chinoda.
“This makes a powerful statement against wildlife crime and also works as a deterrent measure to show that the government is serious about wildlife protection and conservation in the country.”
She said some Zimbabwean environmental agencies such as the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) have been lobbying for a specialised environmental and wildlife court to be established in the country but nothing much has been done to see the practicability of the idea.
“The remaining question now is; do we have enough work that requires a dedicated wildlife court and do we have the capacity to have such a specialised court,” said Chinoda.
Chinoda stressed that as an animal lover, she would like to see Zimbabwe having an environmental and wildlife court that will ensure that all cases to do with animals whether domestic, wildlife, or livestock are solved in a specialised court where magistrates and prosecutors are dedicated to protecting the environment.
Chinoda commended Uganda for being one of the pioneers in establishing a specialised wildlife court in the country. She said the court’s success has shown the effectiveness of a specialised wildlife court.
Since 2017, a specialised court in Uganda known as the Standards, Utilities, and Wildlife Court has been promoting economic growth. Since it was founded, the court has heard more than 500 cases involving animal crimes which resulted in 207 convictions, 20 dismissals, 1 acquittal, the release of two individuals on police bail whilst 238 cases are still waiting for adjudication.
Like Zimbabwe, Uganda is one of the common transit points for the trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products in the Central and East Africa region, according to the 2018 Uganda Wildlife Trafficking Assessment report produced by the global monitoring group TRAFFIC.
ZimParks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo emphasised that upholding the law as the country will help in saving wildlife.
“I do not doubt that the dedicated-wildlife court would have a positive impact on the community in terms of wildlife conservation and protection. Every person involved in wildlife issues would be on high alert and higher educational institutions would also focus on introducing wildlife-related courses into the academic curriculum,” Farawo said.