The nickname “Gucci Grace” was given to Grace Mugabe  − the wife of former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe − because of her extravagant ways. Now it seems that the former first lady, who is said to have spent US$120 000 (£85 000.00) on just one shopping trip to Paris, may have funded her lavish lifestyle by smuggling elephant ivory to China, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, among other destinations.

The Herald Newspaper reported earlier this month that investigators with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority have submitted key documents relevant to the allegations against Grace Mugabe to the Zimbabwe police. They have also arrested a number of suspects who are believed to be linked to her case.

Preliminary indications are that Grace Mugabe ordered officials to issue her with export permits for elephant ivory under the pretext that she was sending it to leaders of various countries as “gifts”.

Once outside Zimbabwe, it is alleged, the “gifts” would be pooled with other consignments of illegal ivory and routed to black markets.

Network for Animals has welcomed the news that Zimbabwean police have intensified their investigations into the allegations of ivory smuggling that have been made against Grace Mugabe.

“Network for Animals warned the government of Zimbabwe that laws were being broken,” said NFA’s campaign director, David Barritt.

“All our efforts to protect elephants from exploitation and death under the government of Robert Mugabe were ignored and so we welcome the moves by the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa to investigate criminality on the part of Grace Mugabe. At the same time our hearts ache for the hundreds and hundreds of animals that died to feed the market for elephant ivory.”

Zimbabwe is one of the most important elephant range states in Africa and home to a population of nearly 83 000 elephants. But in recent years, elephant poaching has surged in the country and conservationists have been horrified by the use of cyanide to poison watering holes and the elephants that drink at them. The first reported case of this was in 2013 when a single massacre of over 100 elephants happened at Hwange National Park. Since then it has become a common means of poaching throughout the country’s protected areas.