Harare - Two police officers from southern Zimbabwe were caught last week allegedly trying to sell a live rare ground pangolin to a businessman in Zimbabwe, it was reported Sunday.
The state-controlled Sunday News paper said the two, both in their 20s, are currently in police custody and have been charged with "possessing a specially-protected animal without a permit." Pangolins are also known as scaly anteaters.
The news will disappoint many fighting to protect endangered wildlife in Zimbabwe, not least because a top local police officer was separately reported Sunday to be under investigation over the cyanide poisoning of elephants in Hwange National Park.
A junior officer has also been arrested in connection with that case, according to the state-run Sunday Mail.
In the pangolin incident, police officers Tinashe Mushaikwa, 29, and Albert Gwere, 23 are alleged to have worked with two accomplices to capture a pangolin in October.
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The officers then tried to find a buyer in Gokwe town, but were caught out last Sunday after the authorities were tipped off and a detective posed as a buyer.
Their accomplices - named as Gordon Chitima, 49, and James Matsungo, 42 - pleaded guilty and have both been sentenced to nine years in jail, the Sunday News said. The police officers have pleaded not guilty and will be back in court on Tuesday.
Pangolin poaching is on the rise in Zimbabwe although authorities have been clamping down hard on offenders.
Zimbabwe's Tikki Hywood Trust often cares for anteaters rescued from poachers.
The trust reported on Sunday that an elderly much-abused male pangolin that had been brought to the centre had died.
"He was a fine gentleman, gentle and brave and he fought a tremendous fight," the group said in an update to Facebook.
"Sadly due to anorexia and dehydration together with his age he did not win this fight and passed away," it added.
It did not say where the pangolin had been captured.
Pangolins are valued for their meat and their large overlapping scales, which are used in traditional and Asian medicines. Up to 100 000 African pangolins are believed poached each year.