HARARE – Vumba’s pristine rainforest — a cradle to some of Zimbabwe’s unique flora and fauna — is under siege.
Illegal settlements and poaching are threatening to leave its breath-taking mountains bare.
Its Msasa woodlands and Montane forests among where the rare Star of Africa Oak stand are being broken and retreating further into the misty mountains, limiting the aerial freedom of the elegant Samango monkeys endemic to its canopies while snares litter the forest floors threatening the uncommon little blue duiker and unique dwarf chameleon among others.
It has an impressive catalogue of insect, bird and animal life among its tropical vegetation that receives an average of 1 800mm of rainfall each year.
To Environment Africa’s Lawrence Nyagwande this tropical rainforest is the “only” enclave of “pristine environment that is left in Mutare district” and there are doing all they can to save it from wanton decimation.
The rest of the district has been razed of its mainly Msasa woodlands due to tobacco farming and Mutare’s need for fuel and locals’ need for protein in game and fish upsetting the district’s ecological balance.
But the biggest threat to the preservation of the Vumba are “basic survival scenarios” for locals, says DB Blaauw, a volunteer consultant of Wildlife Environment Protection Unit (Wepu) a project under the Vumba Green Fund which is facilitated by Environment Africa and the Tikki Hywood Trust, together with the Vumba community.
Wepu also has the support of the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
“You get people who are seriously desperate for land… So even with education, if its survival it’s a problem,” Blaauw said adding that animal and fish poaching are a critical source of protein for locals.
“Man is always the top predator but we are just trying to give the other guys a chance,” Blaauw said.
Nyagwande said 80 percent of wood and animal poachers are workers who stay in properties in Vumba some of whom are doing it to supplement their income apart from the need for protein.
About 3 000 snares have been removed from the floors of Vumba’s living canvas over the past two years, says Blaauw.
“Snares are nasty and 10 percent of them actually catch something. You can imagine what the loss of three hundred animals can do to such a small area as ours,” he said.
“Our scouts also recently assisted in the confiscation of two boats and gill nets which are particularly bad due to their indiscriminate catching of fish,” Blaauw told the Daily News.
The Wepu consultant also said poachers were taking advantage of the thick vegetation cover currently obtaining in the mountains and the fact that his organisation was thin on the ground to execute their illegal operations.
“Wepu recently came across where people were making charcoal confiscating 50 something bags,” he said.
Vumba’s unique ecology, he added, is a major attraction for ecotourism which can be “a very good source of income for the entire region” thus their drive to try “to keep it as pristine and as natural as we can.”
On whether this was a battle the country can win Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) Manicaland area manager, Daniel Mumpande said “we can through partnerships.”
Mumpande said there was need to strengthen “environmental awareness campaigns and reiterate to communities the importance of forests and how they affect our livelihoods.”
“Ecotourism will also benefit communities…it benefits a sculptor at Prince of Wales View and women selling their crocheting ware along the road to Vumba,” Mumpande said.
Lloyd Makonya, National Museums and Monuments marketing officer said the preservation of the Vumba was not just for the preservation of animals’ habitat but as it had a rich heritage.
“In every area there is heritage either tangible or intangible. We are for sustainable development even for the benefit of communities,” Makonya said.
The battle for the preservation for the Vumba is, however, promising with the launch of the Old Mutual Vumba Mountain Run to support Wepu for three years now.
It’s a punishingly challenging course through the mountainous area that has been growing exponentially since its launch.
The event which is organised by Byran Rocher and is hosted by Leopard Rock Hotel donates all its entrance fees to Wepu started with only a handful of athletes but had 153 athletes in its second edition jumping to 398 participants this year, said Rocher.
“We raised a lot of money for the environment,” Rocher told the Daily News that on the sidelines of the Saturday half-marathon when they have US$4 500 before Old Mutual Acting Group Chief Executive Officer, Zom Chizura doubled it at the end of the ceremony.
“The race is associated with a noble initiative of raising funds for Wildlife Environment Protection Unit…The Vumba boasts a rich and unique variety of vegetation that is home to an equally impressive range in bird and wild animals. We should jealously guard this natural heritage for the benefit of future generations,” Chizura said.
This year’s event attracted athletes from as far as Angola and South Africa and included veterans like Samkeliso Moyo and Tabitha Hlahla to as well as secondary school pupils who had an opportunity to rub shoulders with their professional idols that are in the prime of their carriers.
Manicaland Athletics Board chief Matume was elated by the success of the tournament his organisation helps to organise for both its fund-raising cause and for the “encouraging development” of including secondary schools that he says are their “pool” for future events as well as for its ability to attract top competitors.
The route, just like the golf course, is one of the best — it’s very challenging, Matume said.