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Time to deal with ecological disaster

The photographs of dead elephants in Hwange National Park sickened the world. It wasn’t just the grotesqueness of the spectacle, but also the method with which they were killed that shocked everybody.

The photographs of dead elephants in Hwange National Park sickened the world. It wasn’t just the grotesqueness of the spectacle, but also the method with which they were killed that shocked everybody. The use of cyanide — or any poison at all — to kill wild animals dehumanises the perpetrators of such hideous acts. From the editor’s desk Nevanji Madanhire

The ecological effect is even more frightening; it has emerged the jumbos were not the only animals to die as a result. In an ecosystem, animals often survive by eating one another. In the Hwange case, the lions and the vultures which thought they had found a godsend dinner perished after their feast.

Interestingly, the poisoners might also have committed suicide, as the cyanide will eventually find its way into their food with devastating effects.

But the killing of the jumbos, 95 of them, in a single area, must not be viewed as the only environmental disaster the country faces; in fact it must be seen just as the tip of the iceberg. Elephants are big animals, hence the images of the decaying beasts were shocking and jolted the new government into action. But the action should not be on elephants alone, or on just Hwange National Park alone.

Anecdotes coming from around the country suggest poaching is rampant as well in other areas such as Mana Pools, Gonarezhou and the conservancies scattered round the country.

But animals are not the only aspect of our environment that has been targeted; forests too. For me there is little difference between the decaying carcass of an elephant and the chopped down trunk of a hundred-year-old indigenous tree!

There must be a holistic way of looking at our environment. As the people of Tsholotsho must know by now, poisoning elephants does not end with the deaths of the jumbos only but the whole chain of interconnected feeding patterns is affected. The poisoners did not understand how an ecological system works.

Wanton cutting down of trees has a similar effect; it doesn’t end with just the removal of trees but the effects ripple into other disasters such as desertification. Veld fires also have ripple effects on the environment which will be felt for years, if not decades, to come.

During the writing of the new Constitution I campaigned for the inclusion of ecocide as a crime against peace.

“Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.”

There is a whole global movement aimed at stopping the extensive damage to the environment and people’s lives by campaigning to make ecocide the fifth international crime against peace. The ecocide lobby was escalated in March 2010 when Polly Higgins, an international barrister and award-winning author, proposed to the United Nations that ecocide be made an international crime against peace.

Her campaign, and that of like-minded people, is that, “there are currently four crimes against peace: genocide, war crimes, crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity. Ecocide is the missing fifth crime — it is a crime against humanity, against current and future generations, and against all life on earth.”

Zimbabweans should begin to think in a similar manner. The environment is still a peripheral issue in determining how our country should be governed. This is despite the fact that our very delicate environment is a constant threat to national stability.

As the Hwange disaster has shown, foreigners are involved in the poaching, posing a security threat as this might injure bilateral relations. Not only that, soon tourists might be repulsed by a country that poisons its own animals. This will obviously impact on tourism revenues.

What should concern Zimbabweans now, more than anything else, is their responsibility towards their own environment and whether they can bring their government to account regarding tangible environment issues. The country needs leadership in this, which is painfully lacking.