Troubles at Hwange National Park

While the authorities currently seem to be doing their best to contain the situation at Hwange National Park, where over 90 elephants were massacred by poachers, with the number likely to rise, people still have so many questions that need some answers.

Environment with Chipo Masara

However, there is need to mention that from the look of things, the Government of Zimbabwe is not taking lightly the ruthless and senseless killing of elephants at the country’s biggest game reserve, which also resulted in the death of other animals, especially meat-eating ones.

In one of many recent visits by officials to the crime scene, a total of seven ministers (Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi, Health minister David Parirenyatwa, Agriculture minister Joseph Made, Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo, Information minister Jonathan Moyo and Mines minister Walter Chidhakwa) on September 29 took a trip to Hwange National Park.

The purpose of the trip was to ascertain the damage and craft the way forward, in a bid to stop the continuance of similar incidences.

According to figures supplied by officials from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) during the visit, besides the elephants that died, the cyanide poison had also led to the death of two buffaloes, one giraffe, one kudu, one lion, two painted dogs and many vultures, by Sunday last week.

It was agreed the carcasses of the dead animals would be burnt while Ferrous Phosphate, an iron salt of phosphoric acid, would be used in decontaminating the poisoned water and soil.

The poachers spread cyanide over salt pans, also known as salt licks (salt deposits that animals regularly lick) around water holes. There are currently a total of 35 salt licks that are known to have been poisoned.

The fact that the poachers chose to use cyanide, which is deadly, and not rifles as they have normally done in the past, shows that there is a new determined breed of poachers that’s worried about nothing else except making money.

According to reports from ZimParks, cooking utensils were found inside Hwange National Park at a place the poachers had clearly been camping while they carried out their brutal operation.

While it could not be ascertained for how long the poachers had been camping in the park, it was clear they got comfortable enough to set up camp. This has had many wondering where the rangers were while this was happening. Were they not supposed to be manning the place?

ZimParks says the reason why this catastrophe has occurred is because they are underfunded and quite overwhelmed. Lack of sufficient manpower and equipment required to run the park efficiently, were cited as the main challenges.

Hwange National Park, the biggest game reserve in the country and third biggest in Africa, stretches for 14 651 square metres. ZimParks officials said such a huge national park would ideally require at least 700 rangers. Hwange National Park only has 145. While 120 field rangers are required in the anti-poaching department, only 43 are available. As a result, while ideally, one ranger should cover a 20km area, each of them is expected to cover 200km, on foot and without food rations.

The unavailability of water in some parts of the park and the erratic fuel supplies are also said to be a hindrance to smooth operations. The lack of external support was also cited as a contributing factor, as aerial and research services are now non-existent. This has been blamed by the officials on the “West-imposed sanctions”.

Having heard all the troubles ZimParks is facing to effectively run the game reserve, it is not then surprising that poachers can get in and have their way as they did.

But now that this was allowed to happen, what are the measures being put in place to ensure that it does not recur, many might want to know.

The recently appointed Environment minister Saviour Kasukuwere reiterated his declaration of war on poachers and expressed determination to protect the country’s wildlife.

“We are determined to protect our wildlife and that is why we are here,” said Kasukuwere during the visit to Hwange National Park.

Kasukuwere acknowledged that there is a need to make some changes at the national park, changes that will obviously require money. He appealed for help from well-wishers.

It still remains to be seen whether the problems that led to the catastrophe will be dealt with.

One thing for certain, as long as conditions remain the way they are at Hwange National Park, this will not be the worst we have seen.

For feedback, email:
cmasara@standard.co.zw

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