HARARE-Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority has suspended its head over valuable rhino horns that went missing from secure vaults.

Rhino horns are worth thousands of dollars due to demand in East Asia for their supposed medicinal qualities, fuelling a boom in poaching and trafficking in Zimababwe and neighbouring South Africa.

“Zimbabwe parks and wildlife management authority announces the sending on leave of the authority’s director general, Edson Chidziya.

The move has been taken to allow for an audit,” a statement said. “This follows anomalies in the rhino horn stockpiles amounting to 228 kilogrammes.”

Chidziya has been suspended for two months, the authority said.

Zimbabwe has 70 tonnes of elephant ivory and five tonnes of rhino horn which cannot be sold due to a ban by the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The country has in the past appealed to CITES to be allowed to sell the stockpiles to raise funds for conservation programmes. The stocks have accumulated from animals that died of natural causes, while some were recovered from elephants and rhinos killed by poachers.

Parks authorities say they lack the funds for patrols to fend off poachers.

Rhinos are targeted by armed gangs due to the belief in Vietnam and China that ground-up horn cures diseases including cancer. Also believed to be an aphrodisiac, the horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails.