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How safe is Zimbabwe’s wildlife?

Zimbabwe has undeniably been one of the countries blessed enough to have a vast number of wildlife to add to its appeal.

Environment with Chipo Masara

Today however, there are growing worries that the wildlife numbers in the country are fast dwindling and that those animals that are still alive might not be safe.

Wildlife has not only helped add to Zimbabwe’s appeal as a tourist destination but has also been a major part of the people’s culture since time immemorial.

Up to today, people continue to be distinguished and or united along totem lines, with each totem being of an animal.

“What’s your totem?” is still a common question in many areas, especially when people want to know each other better.

Thus, animals do not only serve as a tourist attraction for the country, they are an important part of the country’s historical setup. The Big Five — elephant, lion, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo — are the country’s pride.

On its website, the Zimbabwean Embassy in Stockholm wrote: “As one of the progressive countries in Africa in the field of wildlife management, Zimbabwe has reserved 5 million hectares, or 13% of the country’s land area, as parks and wildlife estates, conserving one of the largest remaining concentrations of animal life.”

Judging from this statement, it is clear the responsible authorities are fully aware animals matter to Zimbabwe and that tourists visit the country to see the animals in their natural habitat, among other things.

It then boggles the mind as to why, looking at how animals are clearly important for the country, there hasn’t been sterner measures put in place to protect them.

If reports coming through are anything to go by, animals are in actual fact no longer at home in Zimbabwe.

Media was recently awash with reports of the “invasion of conservancies” by some elements, under the guise of indigenisation.

Conservancies — places that had been sanctuaries for most animals for many years — no longer seem a safe place for them.

As if the rampant invasion of conservancies was not enough, there has been a proliferation of mining activities in some wildlife habitats.

Mining activities are threatening animal existence

Last year in November, the National Parks officials were battling to end mining activities that were reportedly going on at Mana Pools National Park, which happens to be one of the largest national parks in the country.

There are other national parks in Chimanimani, Hwange, Nyanga, Gonarezhou, Chizarira, Victoria Falls, Matobo, Matusadona and Kazuma.

Meanwhile, the government granted special grants to new coal-mining companies in Hwange, the most notable of them being Chinese investors.

With the Hwange area known to be carrying a large amount of the country’s wildlife, and being home to the presidential elephant herd, many are wondering if it is only mining that the Chinese are really after in the area.

It is no secret that Chinese people have a strong penchant, if not need, for elephant and rhinoceros horn, which they use to make medicines and daggers, among other uses, and are willing to pay ridiculously high amounts of money for them.

The attempts by conservationists to demystify the beliefs in the horns seem to have come to naught so far, as demand for them seems to be surging.

Echoing many people’s sentiments, Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force had this to say:
“Animals are not safe. With all the mining going on, animals will continually be in danger. There are a lot of investments and geologists present in most areas, with a lot of Chinese people operating, it doesn’t look good.”

Recently, there were reports of lions killing three people in Kariba and of the animals’ killing by the National Parks.

Rodrigues believes predatory animals are now going after humans because of the non-existence of smaller game in the area due to poaching, resulting in the predators finding it very hard to find food.

Most of the small game are killed by poachers for the pot, while the larger animals are often killed for either their skin or for their horns.

The fact that the country is facing its worst case of deforestation, exacerbated by the rampant cutting down of trees and persistent veld fires, has also deprived many animals of their natural habitat, leaving them exposed and in constant danger from poachers.

While Zimbabwe is a country that has real potential of becoming a leader in the tourism industry, it would seem the responsible authorities are undermining the role wildlife can play in reviving the industry.

It is about time the country started nurturing the wildlife resource to ensure its benefits are also passed on to future generations.

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