George Maponga — Masvingo Bureau
Zimparks has started boosting the profile of Gonarezhou National Park in the southeast of the Lowveld by reintroducing rhinos in a move tailored to boost the revival of the local tourism industry, one of the key anchors of the local and national economy.
Gonarezhou is one of Zimbabwe's most popular tourist attractions with diverse flora and fauna.
The park is also part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park that is joined to South African's Kruger and Mozambique's Gaza national parks to create one of the world's largest wildlife habitats.
Rhinos were hunted to extinction in Gonarezhou almost 30 years by poachers but with the vastly improved protection offered by the parks across the border and by Zimparks on the Zimbabwean side it is now possible to bring rhino back.
Zimparks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said the ongoing reintroduction of rhinos in Gonarezhou would boost tourism in the park. Tourism is expected to play a key role in stimulating national economic growth in line with President Mnangagwa's Vision 2030.
"We are in the process of reintroducing rhinoceroses in Gonarezhou to boost the park's profile and attract more tourists there. We hope by bringing rhinos back to the park the habitat will regain it's position as a prime local tourist destination and this dovetails with our overall goal to grow the tourism sector,"he said.
"We will be officially launching the reintroduction project of the rhinos but the process is already underway but we cannot disclose the number of rhinos to be involved for security reasons."
Mr Farawo assured the nation that adequate measures have been put in place to make sure the rhinos don't fall prey to poachers and become extinct again. The rhinos being stocked in Gonarezhou were being translocated from private wild sanctuaries such as Malilangwe that had provided the refuges for endangered species while Zimparks fought the poachers in most state-owned game parks.
"There are measures in place to ensure the safety of rhinos in Gonarezhou. Besides keeping them under surveillance we have a beefed up team of rangers to protect the rhinos. There will be under increased surveillance and monitoring especially before they adapt to the new environment."
"We also have a team of sufficient ecologists and veterinary doctors that will closely be looking after this endangered species so in terms of guaranteeing the safety of rhinos we are very much prepared,"said Mr Farawo.
This will be the third reintroduction of rhinos in Gonarezhou.
The last of the of the pre-colonial herd in the area, was shot in the 1930s before the area was declared a national park.
Rhinos were reintroduced to Gonarezhou in the 1960s to early 1970s culminating in the declaration of Gonarezhou as a national park in 1975.
A surge in poaching in the 1980s across most of Africa and closure of Gonarezhou during the days of the Renamo insurgency in neighbouring Mozambique saw rhinos becoming extinct again by the time the park was reopened to the public in 1994.
Zimbabwe has been investing in infrastructure development and other things on its side of the Great Transfrontier Park for the country to keep up with progress in its two other partners.