Increased mining activities in Hwange and surrounding areas are taking up space meant for wildlife, a situation that has seen elephants moving into residential areas in search of habitat, water and food, communities have said.
Besides foraging for food, water and space, elephants also flee from noise caused by mining operations.
Recently, elephants caused havoc at Lusumbami Primary School, where they destroyed a water tank and its support infrastructure erected by Hwange Central Member of Parliament, Daniel Molokele, using the Constituency Development Fund.
Locals claimed the elephants encroached into their settlements, as they were running away from blasting carried out by Zimberly Investments which is mining around the area.
Personal Assistant to Hwange Central MP, Thulani Moyo, confirmed the incident in an interview with CITE.
“The head of Lusumbami Primary notified me that the elephants broke the perimeter fence, went into the school and headed to the jojo (water) tank. Obviously, I think the elephants were searching for water so they had to destroy the supporting stand so they could access the water,” he said.
“The Jojo tank was located at the side where there are classes for the Early Childhood Development (ECD) learners and the Jojo stand was designed to accommodate the height of the ECD infants. This was unfortunate, so yes, I can confirm the elephants destroyed a Jojo tank in Lusumbami Primary School.”
Moyo said communities had realised that mining activities also motivated wild animals to come nearer their settlements as they are disturbed from where they are inhabitants.
“Wild animals are inhabitants of the park, forest and bushes that are around so there is a lot of noise that emanates from these mining activities. Animals are now forced to come closer to the residential areas to the extent that they are now able to go to schools,” he said, noting that Lusumbami was located at the periphery of the community.
“This is what happened and I will agree that mining activities are contributing to animals coming towards the communities. Yes, I can confirm that.”
Director of the Zimbabwe-based Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), Farai Maguwu, quizzed who gave authorisation for mining to take place within residential spaces.
“Since the opening of Zimberly Mine about 500 metres away, elephants have been entering neighbourhoods as they run away from blasting carried by the mine,” he said.
“Children are now at great risk from these elephants. According to locals, houses are cracking due to blasting. Who authorised mining a few metres from a residential area and a school?”
In 2020, conservationists were angered after the government approved special grants for two Chinese coal mining companies, Afrochine Energy and the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining Group, to explore for coal in the vast Hwange National Park.
The mining permits appeared to be ‘Special Grants’ which reportedly can only be issued by the office of Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
It also emerged there were more mining activities taking place in other national parks.
This prompted conservationists to demand that the government put into law – its new policy stipulating that “mining on areas held by National Parks is banned with immediate effect,” as agreed by President Mnangagwa’s Cabinet on September 8, 2020.
The State, however, claimed there appeared to be a lapse in the enforcement of regulations as some miners ended up getting special grants to extract minerals in national parks and riverbeds, causing damage to the environment and its systems.
A Hwange tour operator and a safari hunting business owner in the Matesti area, Wisdom Bushe Neshavi, noted due to population growth, “there are elephants all over town now” but concurred that “increased mining activities towards the national park has also caused animals to run away to towns.”
“Elephants move into residential areas where they can find food and water. In some concessions, water is polluted, so it is no longer tasty for them to drink,” he said.
“Now, there is water pollution and the blasting scares them, so the animals find that they can’t stay in the bush.”
The tour operator added that there is competition between animals in the bush, especially when habitats they used to live in are destroyed.
“Animals have to move to other areas but can’t settle in another area because animals are territorial. The animals are forced to find a new area where there are no other animals and those areas are where you find human inhabitants. This creates conflict between animals and people,” he said.
Neshavi stated there was no ready solution for finding space for animals to settle it, as current circumstances indicated.“As long as we have the National Development Strategy and Vision 2030, where mining has been prioritised above anything else, conservation is limited because priorities are priorities,” he said.