GENEVA (AFP) — The World Wildlife Fund on Thursday criticised the release of four poachers who admitted to killing 18 rhinos in Zimbabwe, saying such lax law enforcement is unravelling conservation progress.
"The lack of enforcement and increased poaching pressure in Zimbabwe now threaten to reverse the excellent trends in rhino populations of recent years," said Susan Lieberman, director of WWF's species programme.
Rhino poaching is growing throughout Zimbabwe, with around 70 rhinos killed since 2000 in the Lowveld Conservancies -- where most of the nation's rhinos are found, WWF said.
In 2008 alone, about 20 rhinos were shot in the Lowveld, while "prior to 2000, for a period of seven years, there was no rhino poaching wahtsoever," said Raoul du Toit, Lowveld rhino conservation project manager.
WWF said poachers are killing rhinos in snares and shooting them for their horns.
While some poachers from neighbouring Zambia have been arrested and convicted, no Zimbabwean poacher has been convicted.
"The few Zimbabwean poachers arrested, have subsequently been released on bail, and then absconded or have evaded prosecution in the courts," WWF said.
In the case of the four Zimbabweans who admitted to killing 18 rhinos, they were "granted bail, freed and immediately absconded."
Zimbabwe is home to 300 white rhinos and 500 black rhinos, which are more endangered. Worldwide, there are currently around 14,500 white rhinos and nearly 4,000 black rhinos, added WWF.
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