22 November 2013

Zimbabwe: Hwange Anti-Poaching Crusade in Overdrive

FUNDRAISING for anti-poaching of elephants in Hwange National Park, where more than 100 elephant were killed through cyanide poisoning, has gone overdrive with the board of trustees set up by Government in September stopping at nothing to effect zero poaching.

Cyanide, is a fast-acting poison, that was stockpiled as a chemical weapon in the arsenals of both the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and that requires up to a generation to bio-degrade on a large scale.

Environmentalists say the effects of the cyanide are likely to take a generation to wear off as it is assimilated in crops and ground water to affect an even wider area from where it was administered.

The board of trustees has so far acquired 23, 4×4 vehicles, for use by National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority rangers and come up with a coterie of strategies to ensure that the Hwange and several other parks are sealed off from marauding poachers.

In an interview yesterday, one of the trustees Mr Major Mahlangu said they were stopping at nothing to revive the anti-poaching units.

"So far, we have raised 23 vehicles, 20 from Mbada Diamonds, two from Zimoco and one from Econet Wireless. We are raising more.

"This came out of the realisation that national parks were so depleted to the point that there were using about one vehicle in radius of 120km in Hwange National Park and we want to reduce that to a ratio of one vehicle to about 10-15 km for effective anti-poaching.

"We have also partnered Econet Wireless to equip each of the vehicles with radio communication and tracking equipment for easy communication. Econet will also construct base stations in the affected areas for easy communication.

"We realised that national parks have a workshop at Hwange National Park where some broken vehicles are kept un-repaired and Zimoco, sent one of its foremen to assess the situation and work on bringing them back on the road. Most of them have minor problems that can easily be sorted out.

"We have also approached to corporate world to have some companies adopt or employ 20 or so rangers and pay their salaries of say, about US$500 to US$600 so that we can fill the gap of 1 200 rangers required by parks to have a full complement," said Mr Mahlangu.

The board of trustees said it will hold various funding raising activities and come up with various strategies until they achieve zero tolerance.

Sanctions induced financial problems have left National Parks, once one of the most effective wildlife management authorities in Africa, teetering on the brink of collapse. Hwange National Park -- Africa's third largest wildlife sanctuary after Tanzania'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 manage.

Prior to the imposition of the West's illegal economic sanctions, Parks had a proud history of effective management, underpinned by an elaborate National Conservation Strategy, introduced by Government in the mid-1980s.

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 the World Bank, found that the authority needed at least US$68 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 in the park against a requirement of 800.

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. Not sanctions.

Parks has effectively been operating at 54 percent of its operational vehicle requirement and out of those 9 are on the road, 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.

Copyright © 2013 The Herald. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.