Hwange environmental wars, wildlife suffers the most

By Rutendo Mapfumo

Human and industrial activities at the Hwange National Park and its surrounding areas are the major reason behind environmental degradation and animals migrating deep into remote parts of the park.

The Centre for Natural Resources Governance (CNRG) a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that deals with environmental capacity building say the development at Zimbabwe’s flagship national part is a clear lesson that mining and wildlife conversation are two opposites that can’t co-exist.

“What we are witnessing in Hwange is a lesson that mining and wildlife conservation cannot co-exist. Wildlife requires natural environments with minimum human activities. The increase in mining activities in Hwange has caused agitation of wild animals whose increased movements from their usual habitats in search of quitter places is resulting in so many cases of human-wildlife conflicts,” said CNRG’s programs officer Henry Nyapokoto.

Coal is a major driver of Zimbabwe’s electricity generation. Despite importing power from other countries, the country’s thermal power stations constitute a great deal towards the national grid.

With coal reserves to last for the next hundred years or so and an export appetite from China, there seems to be an increase in coal mining activities at the Hwange National Park with newer mining concessions approved for other smaller coal suppliers.

That means, wildlife conservation a key part of Zimbabwe’s tourism packages will continue to be negatively affected. Animals often come into contact with humans and that leads to conflicts.

“Mining is now competing for space, water, and forage with animals. The number of people killed by wild animals has been increasing every year, and we cannot rule out mining as one of the causes. It is so unfortunate that our largest wildlife-protected area lies on and adjacent to the country’s largest coal deposit,’’ he added.

In a recent incident, a 78-year-old Shangano man was trampled to death by a charging elephant while he was driving his cattle in the grazing lands.

Some of the elephants which interfere into people’s homes while running away from miners are killed under Problem Animal Control (PAC) when they are reported that they cause problems in the community when they are reported to authorities.

Edward Muzizi a local former poacher who was jailed for 9 years told CITE that new mines in the area have presented leverage for poaching activities to thrive.

“Due to the existence of mines, the animals have migrated closer to our fields, so we use fire to confuse the already frightened animals, the animals then run berserk to our already set snare in the bush,” he said

Although, the Zambezi Gas and Coal mine, one of the mining companies exploiting coal together with Makomo Resources near the Sinamtela Camp in Hwange once killed two elephants after they were hit by a speeding truck in the concession area. The Zambezi Gas and Coal Operations Manager Eng Menard Makoti said they are working towards protecting wild animals in their area.

“We are guided by the Environmental Impact Assessment EIA, which determines by what we are mining and where. The EIA requires us not to damage the environment including the waters which are in our vicinity. For instance, the water we use in our wash plant is a close circuit, it remains in the plant and we  do not dispose it to the environment because it will be containing oils which can damage the plants and the wildlife that’s why  we wash our coal and settle it within our plant.”

“We have also rehabilitated the land which we mined before through our backfilling programs, this way we will be making sure that wild animals do not get agitated by the degraded land. Thirdly to make sure animals do not fall in our pits, we have put up some safety barricades where we protect our animals”

Villagers, animal conflict and environmental degradation

The latest national fire report says that most veld fires in the Hwange district emanate from areas that share a boundary with the national park. Poachers, locals that hunt wildlife for relish are the biggest criminals.

Villagers in Shangano village blame poverty and hunger in the community. Besides food, they need money for other things such as paying for healthcare and education. As such, charcoal production is thriving.

Richard Mwembe a charcoal dealer says he has managed to pay school fees and managed to prepare for antenatal care for her wife.

“I do get profit from my charcoal business, I sell my products for USD$2.50 per 50 kilograms and I usually sell 100 bags every two weeks. With the money I have been able to pay school fees for my children and provide for my expecting wife’’ he says.

Charcoal has a ready market in bigger cities and towns such as Victoria Falls and Bulawayo due to the high electricity tariffs and load shedding.

According to the Forestry Commission, Zimbabwe continues to lose indigenous trees to wood poaching. The Chief Conservator from Forestry Commission Armstrong Tembo says the forests in the Hwange district are under threat because  wood poachers who are into charcoal production

“As Forestry Commission together with other agencies such as EMA, Zimparks and Hwange Rural District Council we are working towards eliminating such illegal activities,” he says.

Daniel Sithole a Hwange-based Environmentalist from Green Shango Trust says communities should be educated on the importance of wildlife and forests.

“Charcoal production leads to the loss of vegetation and that results in desertification, soil erosion, land degradation, reduced agriculture outputs, increased natural disasters, and increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which cause climate change,” he says.

Communities also rely on forest resources for a range of livelihood activities such as the provision of essential nutrition, raw material, and medicines which cannot be substituted in the absence of trees.

Under Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012 of the Forest (Control of Firewood, Timber and Forest Produce) Regulations 2012, charcoal is fuelwood, and anyone trading in this product without a license can be prosecuted and the equipment used to commit these offences will be confiscated by the State, the offenders continue to damage the environment through deforestation and compromising the homes of the wildlife. Although most offenders are reluctant to obtain the licence due to the processes and the duration of the licence, the licence is only $ZW7000 per annum.

Clement Mukwasi the President of the Employers Association for Tours and Safaris says the environment is very important to tour operators and there is need for the environment to be kept in the best conditions.

“As tourism productive sectors of our economy, we should not blame each other, rather we should engage perpetrators, give them advise and help one another to correct the wrong”

“The duty of protecting the environment is not the government duty, it is a duty that should be taken over by every right-thinking citizen. Human activities also induce climate change with activities such as mining in tourism areas, therefore mining entities must be ensured that do under strict environmental management before they start operations” says Mukwasi.

Meanwhile, although the environmental wars continue to be a cause of concern in Hwange, the Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mangaliso Ndlovu declined to comment.

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