The Sunday News
Leonard Ncube in Hwange
HWANGE National Park needs a dedicated research centre and more rangers to be able to timeously investigate animal welfare incidents such as deaths, poaching and other scientific issues.
This came out during a visit to the country’s biggest game park on Friday as Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) officials said death of animals last year due to a bacterium infection and cyanide poisoning in 2013 exposed the need for a research centre.
Hwange National Park measures 14 654 square kilometres and borders with Tsholotsho, Lupane, Hwange and Botswana, with more than 150 animal and 400 bird species. It has three administrative camps namely Hwange Main Camp, Robins Camp and Sinamatela Camp.
A fourth camp, Makona Camp in the cyanide poaching hotspot area near Tsholotsho is under construction through a partnership with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
IFAW has channelled US$1 million through the five-year partnership which was signed in 2019 and has pledged more support.
Through the partnership, Hwange National Park has been able to scoop mud on one of the critical watering holes at Nyamandlovu Pan near Main Camp, fix the road between Main Camp and Makona, build Makona Camp which will also have an operation centre, purchase vehicles, train rangers and engage communities and furnish a veterinary laboratory centre at Main Camp’s Mtshibi where a resident ZimParks veterinary doctor, Kudzai Mupondi is now stationed. ZimParks has over the years depended on other organisations such as Environmental Management Agency to detoxicate the poisoned salt licks and water holes.
Last year ZimParks engaged a private laboratory in Victoria Falls to carry investigations on death of elephants in Pandamasuwe Forest near Sinamatela as the wildlife authority had no laboratory of its own.
The samples were later sent to laboratories in South Africa, United States and Britain.
A Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine has been purchased for use by ecologists at Mtshibi’s laboratory through IFAW’s partnership.
With a proper research centre, ZimParks says it can be able to deal with such incidents.
“We did not have a laboratory and we have established one using IFAW funds at Mtshibi because of death of elephants last year. We had a doctor but without a unit but now we are confident we can save animals especially as we can remove snares, nurse the victim animals and later release them back to the jungle.
“The morale is high among rangers because of the capacitation and training they have received and while coverage is still low because of limited personnel, we can cover the gap through use of technology. We need a stand-alone research here so that we are able to fully deal with such cases,” said ZimParks regional manager for north-west Matabeleland region Mr Samson Chibaya while updating stakeholders.
ZimParks director-general Mr Fulton Mangwanya whose speech was read on his behalf by Mr Precious Mhaka (ZimParks director finance, administration and human resources) reiterated that Hwange National Park needs about 400 more rangers to fully cover the whole area.
“Lack of monitoring of the park in 2013 led to death of 126 elephants and this was because there were only 156 rangers. The park needs 400 rangers to fully cover the whole area although, however, we can cover the gap with use of technology such as drones.
“I hope the visit by the partners will help identify new areas that need enhancement and research is an area that needs co-operation,” he said.
IFAW president Mr Azzidin Downes said the partnership with ZimParks was based on trust and the need to save human and wildlife and will continue as long as both parties remained in mutual agreement. — @ncubeleon.