Massacre in Hwange
Harare – More than 90 elephants and an indeterminate number of other wild animals have died in an ecological disaster in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park spawned by the poisoning of water sources and salt pans by a well-organised poaching syndicate.
The syndicate is believed to have started operations some five years ago and could involve people from several SADC countries, especially South Africa where ivory fetches good prices. Hwange National Park is Africa’s third-largest game reserve after Serengeti National Park (Kenya and Tanzania) and Kruger National Park (South Africa).
The syndicate largely used cyanide to poison water sources, resulting in the deaths of dozens of elephants within the space of a few days.
The poachers would then waltz in and remove tusks at leisure. The death of the animals has also exposed how more than a decade of Western economic sanctions have crippled Zimbabwe’s capacities in some areas such as wildlife management.
The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority is reeling under a massive shortage of human and capital resources. For example, one game ranger now mans a radius of over 200km instead of the stipulated 20km. Further, the authority has no helicopter to carry out its aerial surveys and only a third of the 150 four-wheel drive vehicles needed for normal operations are working.
Briefing a ministerial delegation that visited the game park recently, the authority’s director-general, Edson Chidziya, said the World Bank had withheld US$67 million it had initially set aside to assist the organisation in its conservation programmes.
“The World Bank wanted to come in with US$67 million for aerial surveys and other activities but politics set in and the funds were denied. Our funders are dancing to the tune of their capitals and funding has dried up.
“Some of the areas that were supported include aerial surveys, borehole drilling, transport, fuel and so on,” he said.
Before the imposition of the sanctions by America and its European allies, the United States Agency for International Development and the EU used to be involved in funding operations.
Chidziya said the organisation needs US$40m annually to operate effectively but had not been spared from underfunding that has affected most government departments as a result of the sanctions.
The Zimbabwe government and business community have set up a Board of Trustess to mobilise resources for parks and conservation activities. Speaking at a ceremony where two speedboats and a vehicle were donated to the authority, Bob Crossley – representing the corporate sector – said business was concerned with the harm wrought on wildlife management by the sanctions.
“We got sanctions and we are going to be on the wayside. We have to make sure we break barriers and work,” Crossley said.