Wildlife has long been Zimbabwe’s pride and is the reason why many tourists have often viewed the country as a worthwhile destination. Besides the unstable political environment that prevailed the last decade in the country, the dwindling numbers of wildlife must have also greatly contributed to the decline of the tourism industry.
The situation looks set to get worse if the current trend of lawlessness and malicious profiteering at the expense of the country’s wildlife is allowed to go on unabated.
Reports from Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force (ZCTF) indicate that of the more than 2 000 rhinoceros the country was blessed with in 1993, only about 450 are left.
Last year alone, the country is reported to have lost 40 black rhinos to poachers. Although there have been incidences of poacher arrests, these have been far between with most of them apparently going scot-free.
Officials with the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said it was increasingly becoming difficult to track down the poachers as they were continuously devising ways to evade the law enforcers.
To avoid detection through gunshot sounds, the poachers are now reportedly poisoning animals, mostly elephants, and by the time the carcasses of the animals would be discovered, the culprits would be long gone.
Asked what his organisation was doing to safeguard wildlife in communal lands, Michael Njonga, director for Communal Areas Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) maintained that although they had problem areas, their programme was proving very viable.
He cited Mbire district which he described as a “classic example”.
There are however conflicting reports coming in, that Mbire district, which used to be wildlife-infested, is losing much of the wildlife to poachers .
Of immediate concern however are the current ongoing invasions of conservancies and wildlife parks by the so-called “new farmers” under the guise of empowerment.
In the meantime, the responsible authorities whom we had hoped would take corrective measures still seem incapacitated to take any decisive action to curb the invasions.
Market for poached horns
The poachers are mostly targeting the rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks, which many reportedly sell to the Chinese and the Arabs.
The Arabs for instance use rhino horns to make dagger handles, which they value greatly in their culture and being oil-rich, many of them are said to be willing to pay ridiculously high amounts for them.
Besides rhinos and elephants, animals like zebra, giraffe, leopard and cheetah are in equally grave danger as they are in demand for their skins.
The skins are said to have a ready market in neighbouring South Africa where they are used to make curios. Smaller animals like kudus and antelopes are often killed for the pot.
Invaded land was meant for wildlife
What is mind boggling is that most conservancies like the Chiredzi River Conservancy (CRC) which was invaded last year, lie in climatic Region Five, areas not favourable for agricultural activities but rather more suited for wildlife habitation.
What is even more vexing is that after having been given land under the land reform programme, most of the “new farmers” have since abandoned these lands, most of which now lie barren after having been cleared of trees and wildlife, with soils badly damaged through bad farming practices.
With so much land that would have been more suitable for agricultural activities lying idle, one cannot help but wonder what plans these people have for the conservancies and parks. Having paid serious consideration to evidence on the ground, it is clear that agriculture is furthest from the invaders’ minds as their eyes are more fixated on get-rich-quick schemes, like trees and wildlife poaching.
According to Jonny Rodrigues, chairman for ZCTF, of the 70 elephants that were sheltered at the CRC upon the start of the invasion last year, just 40 now remain.
Former National Parks director Dr William Nduku disputed the misconception that everything was under control as there are reports that the country has a big number of elephants. Nduku, now a director at Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe, asserted that elephants that keep adding to our depleting numbers often migrate from Botswana where they escape the hot and dry conditions.
They cross over to Zimbabwe in search of water and then get killed by local poachers, said Nduku, who added that more elephants come from Mozambique, where they are in equally big trouble with poachers there. He said the answer to wildlife mismanagement lay in strengthening national parks’ authority, giving them manpower and money to guarantee their salaries as they were currently paying more attention to looking for money to pay themselves than safeguarding wildlife.
Stephen Kasere, former assistant Campfire director, urged the government to adopt a tougher stance to enforce sustainable conservation strategies to protect wildlife.
One thing is certain, the country’s wildlife is in grave danger and unless the responsible authorities move expeditiously to curb the unlawful profiteering on our wildlife’s expense, we will deprive future generations the chance to also set eyes on these wonderfully created creatures.