Zimbabwe courts ‘effectively’ prosecuting wildlife crime, with some gaps, finds first survey of trial outcomes
- Baseline study finds high conviction rates for most wildlife crime prosecutions
- Recommendations include amending legislation and increasing training
- Report, from Zimbabwe and international organisations, handed to authorities
VICTORIA FALLS, Zimbabwe – Eight of every ten prosecutions of cases involving elephant ivory or protected species in eight key courts in western Zimbabwe ends in a conviction, according to the first major survey of trial outcomes published today.
Most of the 345 cases registered during the study’s four-year period involved people found with bushmeat or illegally-caught fish.
But more than 60 involved protected species, said the research from the international conservation organisation Space for Giants and the Zimbabwean legal activist non-profit Speak Out For Animals.
Their report, A Baseline Survey of Wildlife Crime Court Cases in Zimbabwe’s KAZA Region, was handed over during a ceremony today at Victoria Falls to Martha Cheda, Head of Prosecutions at KAZA; Amos Gwema, Head of Wildlife Investigations at Zimparks; Trust Mudimba, also from Zimparks Investigations; and Chief Superintendent Bekezela Ndlovu, CID Matabeleland North.
Space for Giants led the production of the survey as part of an EU-funded project to combat the illegal wildlife trade in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, a swath of southern Africa the size of Spain that includes parts of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
A central tactic is to support the judicial authorities in each country to strengthen prosecutions against suspected wildlife criminals, so that existing and reformed laws become a more robust deterrent.
“We have found that assessing how courts handle such crimes from the beginning is a much more effective way to help guide interventions that have impact than, say, blanket training for judicial officers,” said Shamini Jayanathan, Space for Giants’ Director of Wildlife Law and Justice and the lead author of the survey.
“The research we have produced shows that Zimbabwe is already very effective in terms of its wildlife crime prosecutions. Our findings will be used by the National Prosecution Authority to further shape their response to legislative concerns, and by investigative authorities to help prioritise strategic responses to different types of wildlife crimes.”
The survey assessed cases registered between 2015 and 2018 at the main magistrates’ courts that fall within the KAZA region’s jurisdiction: Victoria Falls, Hwange, Lupane, Binga and Kariba, Bulawayo, Plumtree and Tsholotsho.
“We at the National Prosecution Authority welcome this illuminating report and thank the European Union, Space for Giants and Speak Out For Animal for this endeavour,” said Chris Mutangadura, Chief Public Prosecutor at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
“Having examined the data and the findings, we wholeheartedly endorse the recommendations, and trust that all of the authorities involved in fighting the scourge of wildlife crime will take these findings and build upon the successes and challenges identified.”
Amos Gwema, Head of Wildlife Investigations at Zimparks, described the report as “very good”.
“It depicts what is happening in our courts,” he said. “It highlights the successes and the challenges we face and strengthens our commitment in our fight to tackle this threat to our natural resources.”
The survey found 345 wildlife cases registered between 2015 and 2018. Of the accused, 77% were Zimbabwean, 22% were Zambian, and 1% were Chinese.
In 60% of cases, there was only one accused person. Guilty pleas were entered in more than 75% of general wildlife cases, but only in 39% of elephant cases and 31% of cases involving specially protected species.
Most cases involved bushmeat, mainly kudu, impala and buffalo, but there were also 35 elephant cases involving 195kg of ivory, 21 pangolin cases, five python cases, and one involving 21kg of rhino horn cut into 49 pieces.
Approximately 70% of wildlife cases were concluded within one week of their first arraignment in court. Conviction rates for elephant cases was 83% and 76% for specially protected species.
The accused was sent to prison in 96% of elephant cases, with 80% receiving a term equal or greater to the minimum nine-year mandatory sentence. For specially protected species, 81% of cases resulted in a custodial sentence and over 80% received the mandatory minimum nine-year sentence or greater.
The report’s key recommendations include:
- Review and reform the Parks and Wildlife Act, particularly in relation to the range of offences and sentencing provisions for ivory cases
- Sensitise the judiciary and prosecution services on aspects of the Parks and Wildlife Act relating to Specially Protected Species, given sentencing disparities in different cases involving, for example, pythons or pangolins
- Issue sentencing guidelines to achieve consistency and proportionality in sentencing
- Increase prosecutorial training to prioritise prosecution-led investigations by the NPA, ZRP and ZPWMA, and build capacity to conduct cross-border investigations with neighbouring jurisdictions
- Increase community and public engagement regarding the value of wildlife and the penalties for wildlife crime
- Foster greater engagement between Zimbabwe and Zambia to tackle illegal fishing
Mike Pflanz, Communications Director, email@example.com, +254 735 446226
Read the report:
About Space for Giants:
Space for Giants is an international conservation charity that protects Africa’s elephants and their habitats while demonstrating the ecological and economic value both can bring. It uses science and best-practice to deliver conservation investment initiatives that attract new funding to under-resourced protected areas. It works with national authorities to strengthen legal action to fight wildlife crime and protect animals in the wild. It uses technology it pioneered to reduce human-elephant conflict, and works with a wide range of individuals including academics, journalists, celebrities, philanthropists, and sportspeople, to bring new supporters to its cause. It is headquartered in Kenya, works in at least eight countries in Africa, and is registered as a charity in the UK and a non-profit in the US. Learn more at www.spaceforgiants.org.