Gaborone - Three Zimbabweans and a Chinese national have been arrested in Botswana for the illegal slaughter and possession of 1 200 donkeys hides in an operation police said had unravelled an international donkey hide export syndicate with markets in China and Hong Kong.

According to the Botswana Press Agency (BOPA), police acted on a tip-off and arrested the Zimbabweans, led by a man identified as Isaac Phiri, last Thursday.

They all claimed to be employees of Hondge, a Chinese donkey meat and hide exporting concern based in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

Police raided a warehouse owned by a Motswana businessman in the southern town of Molepolole and recovered 897 wet donkey hides and 303 more, which had already been dried in preparation for transportation to Zimbabwe.

The Chinese man was found with P230 000 cash at the time of his arrest as he came to check on why the other suspects were no longer sending hides to Zimbabwe.

Molepolole station commander for the Botswana Police Services (BPS) Charles Mbengwa said the businessman, who was licensed to export cow hides, was also arrested and was assisting police with investigations.

The suspects told the police they had for some months been buying donkeys from the local community.

The donkeys were allegedly bought from Mabutsane, Kweneng and Dutlwe communal lands in the Southern District, slaughtered and skinned at tribal kraals.

Phiri claimed they slaughtered the donkeys, donated the meat to the local community or threw it away and transported the hides to Zimbabwe, prior to final export to China and Hong Kong.

“The suspects revealed that they buy donkeys from surrounding villages which they then kill, skin and throw away the carcass. The hides are said to be worth millions in China. The accused are currently in police custody on remand,” Mbengwa told BOPA.

Police were seeking to establish whether the slaughter of the donkeys and export of hides were legal.

The suspects were being held in police custody pending initial appearance in court early this week.

African News Agency