TWO Zimbabwe National Parks rangers mistakenly shot and killed an Italian man and his son at Mana Pools National Park, police confirmed yesterday. In a tragic case of mistaken identity, the rangers opened fire on Claudio Chiarelli, 66, and his son Massimillian Chiarelli, 29, killing both on the spot at about 2PM on Sunday.
The rangers apparently mistook the two for poachers. The incident happened near the Nyakasikana Gate in the Marongora area.
Police arrested the rangers who are now assisting them with investigations.
They are likely to be charged with culpable homicide.
Tragedy struck during an anti-poaching operation involving parks game rangers, when a relief team was mistaken for poachers.
Mashonaland West police spokesperson Inspector Clemence Mabgweazara confirmed the incident, adding that investigations are still in progress.
“We can confirm that two people were shot dead on Sunday at around 2PM. They were shot after being mistaken for poachers,” he said.
Insp Mabgweazara said Claudio and Massimillian had offered rangers a ride who were going to relieve other rangers who had been on patrol.
He said the first team had been tracking footprints of suspected poachers and had signalled for a relief team from their base.
The relief team was offerred a ride by the Chiarellis who run Buzz Tour Operating company in the Marongora area.
“However, the rangers who were already on patrol, heard some voices upon reaching the agreed meeting place and they thought they were poachers,” said Insp Mabgweazara.
The rangers had earlier come across a place where the suspected poachers had been preparing food and left.
They followed their footprints which led them to an area near Nyakasikana Gate where they heard some voices and started firing randomly.
The gunshots resulted in the death of the father and son on the spot.
On arriving at the meeting point, the two disembarked from the Toyota Land Cruiser and stood in front of the vehicle.
“They started talking while waiting for the other rangers who had been on patrol to arrive,” Insp Mabgweazara said.
“However, when they heard the voices of the two, they opened fire killing them on the spot.”
They went to the scene only to realise it was their ranger colleagues with the two dead bodies.
The other rangers and one Marconati Francesco, who remained in the car, were not injured.
Safari Operators’ Association of Zimbabwe president Emmanuel Fundira confirmed the incident.
“Claudio Chiarelli, who was an accomplished professional hunter who brought European tourists to Zimbabwe, was accidentally shot together with his son and they both died,” he said.
“Claudio and some colleagues were on a trip with a parks anti-poaching unit when rangers came from nowhere and shot at them while they were standing outside their vehicle.”
Fundira said the incident was a “regrettable mistake” following the rangers’ misjudgment of what was happening when they fired the shots.
“We understand it was a case of mistaken identity,” he said. “Private individuals regularly assist the Zimbabwean parks department’s anti-poaching activities by providing logistical support for patrols.”
An official from the Italian embassy in Harare, who preferred anonymity, said Claudio was from Padua and had lived and did business in Zimbabwe since 1982.
“We can confirm what happened at Mana Pools national park on Sunday but we’re not aware of the exact details,” said the official.
“We’re in contact with the family and it’s a tragedy to them considering the loss of both a father and a son.”
Meanwhile, the Zambezi Society, a wildlife conservation group, has described the incident as a tragic mistake.
In a statement, the non-profit group, said:
“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 Parks 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 vehicle to inspect the engine.
Meanwhile, the six Parks 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: “We witnessed a thorough on-site investigation by the Zimbabwe Police CID and members of the National Parks Investigations Branch and senior management.
“The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority and other state organs now, more than ever, 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.”