The Chinese government has donated several Sports Utility Vehicles, bakkies, trucks, graders, tractors and water pumps to boost the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s wildlife protection and anti-poaching operations in the Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks.
Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Lin Lin handed over the equipment – worth US$2.3 million – to the Zimbabwean government in Harare last week. The package also includes military boots, mobile communication radios, mobile solar power packs, back-packs, tents, flash lights and mosquito nets to be used by game rangers while out on patrol.
Ambassador Lin Lin said the donation comes from the $10 million fund set aside by President Xi Jinping to fund the conservation of threatened wildlife populations across Africa. He said Zimbabwe was selected to receive one of the first donations is a gesture of goodwill to strengthen bilateral developmental cooperation after President Robert Mugabe’s visit to China last year.
“During President Robert Mugabe’s State visit to China in August 2014, President Xi Jinping committed to donate wildlife protection equipment to Zimbabwean side as a sign of goodwill. Africa is the paradise of wildlife and Zimbabwe is facing extinction of certain animals hence the need for the country to put safeguards in place.
“China is willing to cooperate to make sure wildlife can survive and encourage all stakeholders to join us in the protection of wildlife. The donation by the Chinese government will promote the quality of wildlife protection in Zimbabwe and we hope that the people of Zimbabwe will benefit from it,” Lin said.
Zimbabwean minister for Environment, Water and Climate Oppah Muchinguri said the country is struggling with conservation due to the economic sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union, the resultant lack of international donor support and wildlife trade restrictions which have decimated tourism revenues.
She said parks rangers still lack the equipment necessary to conduct effective patrols and provide adequate water services to animals within Hwange and Mana Pools National Parks.
“It has been proven over time that it is very difficult for conservation to be wholly funded and sustained without government, donor, private sector and international support. Revenue inflows for conservation have been affected over the years by withdrawal of donor support due to illegal sanctions, wildlife trade restrictions, unwarranted bad publicity and the decline in tourists from key markets.
“These current constraints require innovative ways of managing protected areas and these include the formation of partnerships. The donation by the People’s Republic of China will therefore assist us in protecting these iconic features.”
In June, the Zimbabwean government exported 22 baby elephants, two lion cubs and one leopard cub to two zoos in China despite widespread condemnation from local and international animal rights activists who feared that the animals would die as a result of exposure to a new, inhospitable climate.
The Chinese donation came a month after the Global Environment Facility (GEF) gave Zimbabwe $6.4 million to rehabilitate Hwange back into a self-sustainable wildlife estate after wholesale poaching which peaked with the water-hole poisoning of more than 300 elephants by poachers in 2013.
In a related development, the German-based Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) has donated $6 million – to be released in tranches of S$1 million per year between 2015 and 2020- to support the rehabilitation of Gonarezhou National Park and restore commercial viability after years of rampant poaching which continues unabated.
The park, which lies on the country’s porous borders with Mozambique and South Africa, is an easy target for local and international poaching syndicates.
FZS conservation project leader Mr Hugo van der Westhuizen told journalists who toured the parks last month that the goal is to ensure that Gonarezhou is self-sufficient enough to fund its own tourism business ventures and anti-poaching programmes.
The society has so far acquired eight Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 pick-up trucks, one 8-tonne Nissan UD truck, tractors, a motorised grader and bicycles to enhance wildlife protection operations. He said the FZS has plans to re-introduce rhinos in the parks after they were wiped out by Mozambican poachers over the past 10 years.
“With the threat of ivory poaching ever growing and the park being particularly vulnerable through its long boundary with Mozambique and high elephant population, much attention has been focused on increasing security along this vulnerable stretch over the last two years.
“Permanent ranger pickets have been built, the border road has been cleared of vegetation to allow access to management vehicles and additional rangers recruited and trained – with the emphasis on employing staff from villages in close proximity to the Gonarezhou to ensure benefits also accrue to local communities,” he said.
Elephant poachers are still operating in the park but instead of shooting, they prefer to lace fruits favoured by the animals with termic, a poisonous pesticide which is widely used by tobacco farmers. Last year, Gonarezhou lost 31 elephants and out of these, 11 were shot while 9 were poisoned by poachers. Eleven more are believed to have died of natural causes.