Mary Mundeya / Regina Pasipanodya
Panganai Mukombe (64), a senior ranger at Manjirenji Recreational Park in Chiredzi threw his entire employment life down the drain because of a cow and a few dollars, just as he was about to retire.
Mukombe, worked for Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) for more than 40 years but was implicated in a robbery case that occurred at his work station in November 2022.
On 4 May 2023, Mukombe was arrested on allegations that he traded a firearm and some rounds of ammunition belonging to Zimparks for a cow and an unspecified amount of money.
Allegations are that on 8 November 2022, the Zimparks Manjirenji office lost an AK 47 rifle and 88 rounds of ammunition after the storeroom was broken into by unknown people.
The two robbers were nabbed and they implicated the senior ranger in the criminal act.
Messages from Mukombe’s mobile phone were recovered showing communications with a self-styled prophet requesting assistance to bury the rifle case since the law enforcement officials were closing in.
However, things turned sour as the self-styled prophet answered back demanding his unpaid dues from Mukombe.
Mukombe had no money since he had not yet received his payment for the barter trade that he had made with the criminals.
Life was evidently tough for Mukombe, but rangers say, they are many in similar shoes .
Zimbabwe has more than 3 500 rangers, most of whom are living in poverty due to low salaries and poor working conditions.
Many of the rangers work in difficult conditions.
For example, wildlife rangers earn USD200 and a local currency componenet of between ZWL206 000 and ZWL300 000.
Their earnings are way less than what an average family in Zimbabwe needs to survive.
The latest data from Zimstat shows that the average Zimbabwean lives on US$5.63 per day while an average family of five persons needs US$872.94 per month to survive and not be deemed poor.
However, the earnings of a wildlife ranger are way below the poverty dartum line.
Many, like Mukombe, have been struggling to make ends meet resulting in them turning to crime.
According to a survey conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), despite being one of the planet’s first and last lines of defense, who protects the future of threatened species like rhinos, as well as their habitats, rangers in Zimbabwe are facing several challenges including inadequate training, poor equipment, low salaries, poor living conditions, poor access to medical care and schools for their children.
African Wildlife Foundation Director, Olivia Mufute said; “If we want to win the battle against wildlife crime, a wildlife ranger’s duty is crucial. This means that their well-being is as important as the survival of critically endangered species like elephants and rhinos in their natural habitats, which they are battling to safeguard, would be impossible without rangers.
“Anti-poaching rangers have one of the hardest professions in the world because they operate in some of the planet’s most hazardous and severe locations. On the front lines of conservation, they toil relentlessly day and night to safeguard species in frequently hostile environments.”
However, different organisations have been working on different initiatives to improve the working conditions of rangers.
For example, nourishing their daily meals at work, patrol rations, and drinking water, improving communication technologies, and constructing new picket bases among other things.
However, the living conditions at family well-being of their families have been neglected.
Therefore, due to the low government wages that they have been receiving, efficiency and productivity in wildlife conservation have been declining lately as many rangers are engaging in criminal activities to fend for their families.
They have found a new way of creating incentives and opportunities for themselves in corruption and misuse of public resources.
Recorded arrests for rangers involved in criminal activities in Zimbabwe
In March 2023, a 24-year-old Zimparks ex-ranger, Prince Mudenda (24) was slammed with nine years in prison for killing and dehorning a black rhinoceros in the Bubye Conservancy in Beitbridge.
Mudenda was busted by the police after the detectives received information that he was at his house in Bulawayo, and acting on the information he was picked and interviewed.
He was convicted at the Beitbridge Magistrates’ Court in April by magistrate Annia Chimweta.
Mudenda was charged with contravening section 45 (1) (a) of Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14 as read with section 128(1)(a) of the same act as amended by general laws amendment No5(148/11) for “hunting a specially protected animal (Rhinoceros).”
The value of the killed rhino was US$120 000 and nothing was recovered.
While admitting to the crime he implicated other wildlife scouts, James Tapoka (27) and Spencer Maradza (27); of Bubye Conservancy citing that on 14 July 2022, they entered the conservancy and killed a black rhinoceros using a .375 rifle and dehorned the animal using an axe.
In a similar case, in January 2020, police arrested a Zimparks ranger Munashe Marumisa, 32, at his compound at the Zimparks’ Katombora Camp on suspicion of poaching after he was found with three rifles and wire snares hidden in his house.
In May 2023, ZimParks arrested some of its rangers while others were fired after they had been caught in illegal mining activities.
The names of the 10 rangers who have been detained so far—including the Doma Safari Area Manager—have been withheld since their disciplinary proceedings have not yet been concluded.
Two other scouts from Bubye Valley Conservancy, Admit Mhamba (30) and Ashford Mupande (26) were arrested for contravening C/S 5 of the Trapping of Animals Control Act Chapter 20:21. It is alleged that they had snared the animals. The exhibits for the case were two female impala carcasses valued at US$ 2000.
In an interview with She Corresponds Africa, ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said access to Zimparks stations where rifles and ammunition are kept is not easy.
“This means that people are getting to their extremes just to have illegal access to the Zimparks premises on unauthorised occasions.
“Some protocols have to be followed just like those in the army, police, and so forth. Therefore, it is a criminal offense for Zimparks officials to be found in possession of or give anyone access to the station without authorisation despite how desperate the situation can be,” said Farawo.