ZIMBABWE Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) says it is more than ready to receive tourists after government recently gave the tourism sector the green light to reopen since the imposition of coronavirus (Covid-19) national lockdown in March.
The Daily News on Sunday Senior Staff Writer Sindiso Mhlophe last week sat down with ZimParks director general Fulton Mangwanya to discuss the authority’s preparedness in dealing with tourists in the new normal, among other things.
ZimParks manages one of the largest estates in the country, about five million hectares of land or 13percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area.
The Authority has a mandate to manage the entire wildlife population of Zimbabwe, whether on private or communal lands. Private landowners can utilize the wildlife on their land but are still accountable to the Authority for the welfare of the animals.
Mandated with the protection, management and administration of the wildlife of Zimbabwe, ZimParks has had a proud history of sound management that endeavours to preserve the unique flora and fauna heritage of Zimbabwe.
Below are the excerpts of the interview with Mangwanya.
Q: The government recently allowed the tourism sector to reopen, how prepared are you to receive tourists?
A: We are more than ready to receive tourists. As you know we don’t get any funding from the government, so we had prepared some two to three months back to receive tourists because that is where our revenue comes from. So, right now places like Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Matobo; I think some of them are already full with local tourists who are visiting these places. As we open the skies, we anticipate more traffic of regional and international tourists coming into Zimbabwe. As you know, the Zimbabwean climate is the best and all the accommodation facilities we have are going to be fully occupied when the planes start coming in.
Q: How many people can your facilities accommodate at a time?
Q: ZimParks properties have a total of about 800 beds.
Q: How much did you lose as the parks and wildlife authority due to the national lockdown?
A: Before Covid-19, we used to collect an average of about $600 000, but after the virus hit only 10 percent was being collected. Covid-19 resulted in an average monthly loss of $14,4 million. Generally speaking, as ZimParks we use something like $61 million per month. So for the past three to six months we were using the resources that we had to make sure that we pay the salaries. We were almost thinking of borrowing from banks, but given the fact that tourism has opened it is our hope that we are going to generate enough funds to meet our daily requirements.
We can safely say we are going to be out of the woods soon because the sector has reopened and we will be able to generate revenue to meet our needs.
We do have photographic safaris where people come to view animals and lodges where we generate resources. We also have hunting and entry fees and we have donors who are genuine; they give us resources that include vehicles, fuel and all types of radio communication and drones to monitor wildlife.
Q: How bad were cancellations owing to the national lockdown?
A: The cancelations, we had no choice. A lot of them were reserved; some of them were moved to other dates. It was really bad because it affected everyone from normal tourists, hunters and many others. It was a very bad situation and we just hope that the clients we have are going to come back since now it’s open.
Q: In terms of WHO set guidelines, how prepared are you to ensure that they are implemented to curb the spread of the disease?
A: The conditions that we were applying even before the borders were open are the same conditions that are going to apply except that from those that are coming into the country we are going to require the 48-hour valid Covid-19 certificate. Locally, we are sanitising each and every place like the Rain Forest, the lodges and we are going to continue doing the same religiously so that we don’t promote local transmission or transmission by those visitors who are coming in from outside. As it is we are more than ready to deal with clients alongside the regulations that are laid down by the Ministry of Health.
Q: How have you been managing human and wildlife conflict?
A: The issue that we have is that human and wildlife conflict is quite a scenario which is prevalent in Zimbabwe in the sense that we have a lot of animals. Animal population is expanding, and the human population is also expanding.
In some cases human beings are expanding and territories of wildlife or the wildlife are also invading some of the domains of human beings. This has resulted in some casualties. In most cases elephants do kill or maim human beings. Lions destroy domestic livestock or at times they even kill people.
When that happen we quickly come in to deal with those issues by awareness campaigns, telling people how they should treat the animals when they see them. But in some cases we have outright animals, problem animals like the hyenas and elephants. We act swiftly and put them down like recently some buffalos invaded a certain area in Tsholotsho and we had to kill most of them so that at least people are safe.
We are actually on top of the situation here although we had some resource challenges given the fact that we were not getting enough funds to deliver, like fuel for vehicles to attend to these situations. But just like poaching, I think we are doing very well dealing with these issues.
Q: Which are the problem areas for poaching?
A: Most of the commercial wildlife poaching of big game is being experienced in Hwange cluster, Sebungwe cluster, Mid Zambezi cluster, South East Lowveld cluster and Matopo Cluster. Poaching of small game is mostly centred in Nyanga cluster, Harare cluster and Ngezi cluster.
Q: Over the last few weeks there has been concern over mining activities in national parks, what is your position on this matter?
A: The issue of mining in protected areas has got its own history. We had a serious problem of people who were doing illegal mining in different parts of protected areas, not just national parks. We control 13 percent of Zimbabwe, which is five million hectares, and when we define it, it has six categories. It has botanical gardens, botanical reserves, sanctuaries, safaris, recreational facilities and top on the list is the national park. National park is not an area which should not be tempered with at all and it’s known internationally. So, the problem that we had recently of mining in the park, which happened in Hwange, where we said no you should not actually do that because we have 400 species of birds, that’s where we have a listed or protected species like wild dog, black rhino, cheetah and so on. So that’s a place that is also seeded to Kaz (Kazungula) which is 520 square kilometres which has five countries, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Botswana and Namibia, so you can’t really play around with such a place and at the same time that is the second largest park in Africa after Kruger. So that was something that had to be corrected. Of course people made noise but that does not mean that they are the ones who caused the cancelation.
We had already raised the flag although we had issued that letter to say you can go and do your drilling of your six holes. It was just drilling, but we later explained that this is not the green-light for you to do mining.
The other problem is that in other areas like safaris and recreational parks, we had these makorokoza (illegal gold miners) who got in and we had to deploy rangers to make sure that they chase the makorokoza who do 24/7 illegal mining.
At the same time, I have a shortage of about 1 000 rangers and the shortage is even exacerbated by that you deploy other rangers for something which is not even core business and this means that poaching is lagging. We decided to say instead let’s give this cleanse officially to proper miners then they will deal with the makorokoza and we redeployed the rangers to core business of human and wildlife conflict, problem animal control, monitoring Campfire and poaching.
Q: There has been talk of overpopulation in the national parks, how are you managing this situation?
A: We have wildlife grounds and international groups detecting on how we should look after our animals that we have managed to keep until this time. Some countries, like in West Africa, no longer have animals and that is the reason why these countries are coming to Sadc to view these animals. The problem is we get prescriptions on how to look after these animals and that alone is causing a lot of problems. If you look at elephants, according to a 2014 survey, we have a carrying capacity of 55 000 elephants, but right now we have 84 000 and if you go round in Hwange and Victoria Falls right now you will see there are baby animals throughout. The animals are working day and night and are reproducing. So the figure of 84 000 is just nothing, we have far much more than that, second in numbers after Botswana. So overpopulation is causing a lot of problems in terms of habitat, because these elephants destroy habitat; not their own habitat, but the habitat of other animals as well. So it’s a risk to other species. We have a challenge.
In Hwange alone, 14 000 square kilometres, we have instead of about 15 000 elephants we have 45 000 elephants, so it’s over populated. We are saying to the international community, please we are in trouble; we need to provide water for these animals, roads for anti-poaching. Allow us to sell the ivory we have here about US$300 million worth of ivory, but they don’t want. They say it will promote poaching. How? You can’t even add one plus one, but it’s just a matter of saying you Africans you don’t have to develop your economies through your resources, you should remain beggars. This is the problem we have and it is turning political.
This is why you find that some Sadc countries are saying maybe it’s better to move out of Cites because we are not benefiting anything out of it.
They are saying wherever they are exporting them they are being ill-treated. You are removing them from their habitat and they are not used to staying out there. They are African elephants and they are not supposed to go to Asia or Europe. A lot of these stories, but all they are trying to do is to ensure that we don’t benefit from the resources we have.
Q: How prepared are you in terms of dealing with fires?
A: We are more than prepared in that respect because we have fire management plans for every park. Whenever we have veld fires, we react swiftly and this year we can’t even say we recorded anything sinister or serious about veld fires. The most veld fires we get are from Botswana and we are always ready for them and these fire management plans are ready to assist us in dealing with problems of veld fire.
On clearing of fireguards, a total of 6167,87 km (79,5 percent) have been achieved against a target of 7,772 km. On block burning, a total of 2553,32 square km has been burnt against a target of 3776,4 square km. This translates to 67.6 percent achieved. Unplanned fires have so far affected 0,23 percent of the total Park Area.
A: How are communities benefiting from wildlife resources around them?
ZimParks has the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) and we have communities that are benefiting 800 000 families from hunting activities. It’s not like we are not doing anything for the communities we are doing it in a great way. With communities benefiting from Campfire which is going to be reviewed soon to ensure that what communities are getting doubles from what it is right now. We are doing everything we can to ensure that the surrounding communities do benefit. We have almost 54 districts that are benefiting and the 55th one is Bikita, which is coming on board soon.