Isdore Guvamombe — THE ecological disaster in Hwange National Park, where over 81 elephants and an indeterminate number of other animals succumbed to poacher-induced cyanide poisoning, has been attributed to the West's illegal economic sanctions that affected Zimbabwe's once-vibrant wildlife management system.
Hwange National Park -- Africa's third largest wildlife sanctuary after Kenya's Serengeti and South Africa's Kruger national parks -- covers roughly 14 650 square kilometres, roughly the size of Switzerland, and naturally demands vast resources to effectively police and manage.
Prior to the imposition of the West's illegal economic sanctions, the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority had a proud history of effective management, underpinned by an elaborate National Conservation Strategy, introduced by Government in the mid-1980s.
Week-long investigations at the vast national park, revealed that failure by parks rangers to thwart increasing poaching was a manifestation of the fiscal constraints that left the authority, severely incapacitated.
The latest survey conducted by Parks in conjunction with the World Bank, found that the authority needed at least US$40 million to get back on track.
It is still a mystery how, on the back of increased elephant populations of 120 000 against the country's holding capacity of 56 000 and the sanctions- induced dwindling of human and material resources, the authority has still managed to operate with a paltry 50 rangers against a requirement of 500.
The world standard space for each elephant is one beast per square kilometre, yet in Hwange National Park alone there are 45 000 elephants against a holding capacity of 14 600.
That in itself, entails that the authority actually needed more resources instead of sanctions.
Parks has effectively been operating at 54 percent of its operational vehicle requirement and out of that, most of the vehicles are half-runners, making them not only difficult, but dangerous to use.
Most rangers, the equivalent of foot soldiers, have gone without their bush allowances backdated to two years to three years ago.
In some cases, the rangers have been forced to go on 21-day patrols without the requisite food rations and protective clothing such as patrol boots, sleeping bags and safe drinking water.
Some have gone without uniforms, and carried home blankets and canvas shoes.
Parks used to conduct aerial patrols, but sanctions brought that operation to a halt, resulting in the authority leasing out one of its helicopters to Shearwater Helicopters in Victoria Falls, to at least get some cash out of it, instead of grounding the chopper.
To resuscitate aerial operations, parks would require 20 000 litres of JetA1.
They also require 130, four wheel drive vehicles.
Environment, Water and Climate Minister Cde Saviour Kasukuwere said his ministry was looking for more resources, saying it would also embark on massive wildlife conservation awareness campaigns in communities bordering national parks.
"For us we are obviously going to raise more resources to enable parks to work. That is the first thing. We are also going to raise more awareness in communities and we are going to engage the Judiciary so that we make it very difficult for the poachers through stringent and deterrent jail sentences."
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Engineer Walter Mzembi, insists his ministry had introduced two statutory instruments to allow companies in the industry to acquire equipment and vehicles without paying duty, to cushion them from the effects of the illegal sanctions. National Parks, therefore, could use the same to recapitalise.
"Our tourism is based on wildlife and tourists want to come and see our wildlife and not our hotels. If the biodiversity disappears, then we will have nothing left.
"We have seen that we have no capacity to respond to a disaster of this nature. Going forward we need to find resources to recapitalise and increase the capacity of this important tourism stakeholder.
"I have talked to Minister Chinamasa about extending the two statutory instruments for the next five years, after they expired with the UNWTO general assembly," said Minister Mzembi.
National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority manages 5 million hectares of land or 13 percent of Zimbabwe's total land area and vital to note is the fact that most of the parks are located in natural ecological Regions Four and Five or rugged mountainous areas, which would not have much alternative economic use.
To worsen its woes, the authority has a mandate to manage the entire wildlife population of Zimbabwe, whether on private or communal lands, as per dictates of the Parks and Wildlife Act (1975).