Zimbabwe game park falls prey to vandals, neglect

Ancient Bushman art peels off rock surfaces and endangered rhinos wander through derelict fences as neglect threatens to rob Zimbabwe’s Matopos game park of its world heritage status.

Shillah Nyakudzi, wildlife manager of the Unesco site, cannot suppress her dejection as she points out a gap in the boundary fence between the Matopos National Park and a neighbouring village.

”Not only is the boundary fence being stolen, but ancient paintings are not spared either by lack of care and maintenance,” Nyakudzi, area manager for the 435 square kilometre park, said.

”Matopos has now become porous as people are stealing the fence which is supposed to provide a boundary.”

The mystical Matopos Hills is a revered site where the Shona and Ndebele, Zimbabwe’s two main ethnic groups, have long held religious rituals amid imposing ancient granite rock formations.

The San Bushmen also found their home among the precariously balancing boulders and lifelike rock formations weathered by two billion years of erosion, leaving some of the best rock art in Africa.

Cecil John Rhodes also chose the silent grandeur of the park as his final resting place.

It is rhino country, home to the endangered black and white rhino, while about 200 rare black eagles make their home in the craggy rock outcrops.

However government neglect due to an ongoing economic and political crisis, community and cattle encroachment, staff shortages, dwindling tourist numbers and a lack of funds have hamstrung the national park.

”The rock paintings are fast deteriorating, they are peeling off. There is need to preserve these otherwise we will lose that world heritage status,” said Nyakudzi.

Bits of fence are stolen for scrap metal, and cattle from neighbouring villages have wandered into the park for grazing.

Nyakudzi said some black and white rhinos ”strayed 25km after finding their way out through the broken fence”.

”Last year we lost one black rhino outside the park while two died inside the park because of the fencing problem,” the parks manager said.

A new security fence around Matopos — home to 17 black rhinos and 45 white — will cost $8-million, she says, bemoaning the lack of funding from both Unesco and other aid organisations.

”Although we were listed as a Unesco heritage site in 2003 there is nothing we are getting from Unesco,” Nyakudzi said.

The area, listed as an intensified protection zone, has only 32 game rangers, less than half the number needed.

”In a proper environment, a ranger must cover one to 10km yet right now a ranger is covering 32km.”

The creation of a government of national unity between long-time President Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai has instilled hope that the country’s wildlife conservation will get some much-needed attention.

”Now that things have changed politically, I think that things will improve,” said Nyakudzi.

Environment minister Francis Nhema said the government planned to raise money to repair the vandalised fence.

”We are trying to address the problem of fencing,” said Nhema.

”The major problem we have is that locals always want to herd their animals inside the park as they are saying they have run out of grazing land.”

”We just have to raise monies on our own, because organisations like Unesco are just a voluntary organisation, they just provide funds when they have some.”

He said the shortage was being addressed, adding that governnment had ordered that people who had abandoned their parks jobs due to low pay be re-employed provided they do not have any criminal record. – AFP



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