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Wildlife decimation threatens tourism

Itai Mushekwe

ZIMBABWE’S tourism industry faces collapse after reports of extensive wildlife deaths due to poaching and lack of water in national parks with Gonarezhou and Hwange particularly badly hit.

Government this week made a tacit admission of the growing disaster, although National Parks Authority officials have been evading questions on the threat posed to the tourism industry by rising deaths among wildlife species.

Tourism minister Francis Nhema this week said government was moving swiftly to save the animals.

“We have begun drilling strategic boreholes and moving the animals to the nearest water points,” he said.

“Our major problem are the elephants because they need more water. We are hoping that the rains will favour us and alleviate the problem.”

Nhema said the receding water table in the parks had exacerbated the crisis prompting government to transfer water in bowsers to the affected areas, while identifying new water sources to supplement these efforts.

Wildlife plays a central role in foreign currency generation through game viewing and licensed hunting. The water problems will further worsen already dwindling tourism business casting doubt over government’s resuscitation efforts.

Hundreds of animals are reportedly dying daily due to lack of water in the arid national parks with elephants the most vulnerable. Tourists have been forced to watch animals fighting over scarce waterholes.

Hwange National Park spans 14 000 square kilometres and has a population of 50 000 elephants, 36 000 more than the carrying capacity of 14 000 elephants. An elephant requires at least 100 litres of water a day to survive.

Another dilemma facing the parks authority is the lack of adequate boreholes.

Out of 60 boreholes only seven are working. But this failure is due to lack of maintenance, conservationists charge.

National Parks Authority spokesperson, Retired Major Edward Mbewe, said his organisaton had managed to put in corrective measures to deal with the situation.

“We have managed to dig a 2,5 km trench from a water point managed by Zinwa (Zimbabwe National Water Authority) at Hwange National Park. The water points have high yielding pumps, and the water will be funnelled to a central point where distribution to the park will be made.”

Mbewe said Hwange Colliery had donated pipes for the project, which will alleviate prevailing problems.

He said plans were under way to construct at least three troughs per borehole for water holding and preservation purposes.

Private sector organisations such as the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force have been instrumental in getting fuel supplies to the affected areas.

Zimbabwe Council of Tourism chairman, Tom Chuma, said government and National Parks authorities should put their house in order considering the economic benefits of wildlife.

“Our industry depends on wildlife and the parks. The state of their health is what drives the tourism industry,” he said.

“We expect all responsible authorities to do what they’re supposed to do, and that is ensuring the wildlife and parks are in a functional state.”

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