Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe

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Italians’ deaths deeply regrettable

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Italians’ deaths deeply regrettable
Claudio Chiarelli and his 19-year-old son Massimiliano.

Claudio Chiarelli and his 19-year-old son Massimiliano

THE tragic death of an Italian conservationist, Claudio Chiarelli and his son Massimillian in an anti-poaching operation in the Mana Pools game park on Sunday is regrettable and our hearts go out to the Chiarelli family and the wider wildlife conservation community which has been robbed of two dedicated and courageous men.

Chairelli, 66, and Massimillian, 29, were shot dead by rangers from Zimparks after they were mistaken for poachers whom the rangers had been tracking for the better of the fateful day. Ironically and indeed tragically, the father and son team were on a mission, alongside six relief rangers, to assist a Zimparks team which was on the trail of some poachers.

Chiarelli, a veteran of the wild who ran Buzz Tour Operating Company in the Marongora area of the vast Mana Pools game park, had been in Zimbabwe since 1982 and apparently fallen in love with the country to the extent that his son Max was born in Zimbabwe. A member of non-profit conservation group – the Zambezi Society – Chiarelli was an avid hunter and brought professional hunters from Europe and other parts of the world to Zimbabwe.

His love for wildlife conservation saw him partner with Zimparks to eliminate the scourge of poaching and the fact that he died doing what he loves most, provides some form of consolation to the bereaved family which might assist them come to terms with the tragic nature of his passing.

There have been incidents in the wild which have resulted in the deaths of professional hunters but these mostly involved dangerous animals attacking humans. This is what makes the death of the Chiarellis even more tragic as it involved “friendly fire”.

Members of the Zambezi Society described the incident as a tragic mistake and explained in detail what they suspect transpired during the contact between the relief team and the rangers who were on patrol. “Claudio and Max, together with Francesco Marconati were providing voluntary support to deploy two National Parks anti-poaching patrols consisting of six rangers with the intention of uplifting the three rangers who were in the field following fresh spoor of poachers,” it said.

“The group had parked their vehicle on the side of the road in the middle section of the Mana Pools National Park to await the arrival of the three Park rangers who had been tracking poachers in dense bush since 9.00AM that morning. “The intention was to meet at the road and hand over three fresh rangers to continue the follow-up.”

According to the Zambezi Society, Claudio, Max and Marconati took the opportunity to open the bonnet of their Land Cruiser vehicle to inspect the engine. Meanwhile, the six Park rangers they were transporting had dismounted from the vehicle and arranged themselves next to it while waiting for their three colleagues to arrive. “Unbeknown to them, the vehicle had been parked within just 15 metres of where the poachers’ tracks had crossed the road.

“Meanwhile, the anti-poaching patrol in hot pursuit, heard voices, crouched down, and slowly moved forward through the thick undergrowth,” the statement said. “Through a gap in the bushes, they saw part of a blue shirt. They assumed this was a poacher and let off a burst of gunfire. Tragically, both Claudio and Max were killed instantly”.

The group said as the anti-poaching patrol rangers were crouched, they were unable to see the road at all. “Fortunately, the six rangers awaiting deployment did not return fire”. Richard Maasdorp, Strategic Director of The Zambezi Society, said more than ever, Zimparks need support and resources to contain their battle against wildlife poaching. “We, the Zambezi Society, extend our very deepest sympathy to Mrs Chiarelli and her daughter and the family on this terrible tragedy. We posthumously thank Claudio and Max Chiarelli, as a father and son combination, for the years of dedication that they have shown in support of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe. This tragedy is deeply regretted.”

We commiserate with the Chiraelli family on their loss and thank the Zambezi Society for the valuable work they are doing to assist in efforts to eradicate poaching in the country’s national parks. We welcome their commitment to continue their invaluable contribution to curbing poaching.

The government has said it will institute investigations into the shooting incident which it deeply regretted. We hope the Zambezi Society will accept the tragic circumstances of the Chiarellis’ deaths and that no mischievous characters will seek to profit from the tragic incident to further inflame sentiment against Zimbabwe.

This was purely a case of mistaken identity and we hope at the end of government’s investigations, a clearer picture of what exactly transpired will emerge. On its part, Zimparks should re-evaluate its training and rules of engagement to ensure that a repeat of such incidents does not happen. In the meantime, we implore all parties to remain calm and let investigators do their work.

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