WILDLIFE: AT THE HEART OF ZIMBABWE'S TOURISM
Wildlife is the very essence of Zimbabwe's tourism. From the black and white rhinoceros at the Matobo National Park (34 kilometers South of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city) the sable and waterbuck at Nyanga National Park (located in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands) and the huge-tasked elephants at the Gonarezhou National Park (South Eastern Low veld of Zimbabwe), the country offers a rare opportunity to view animals in their natural habitats. A World Heritage site, Mana Pools which harbors Africa's "big five" (lion, elephant, rhino, leopard,buffalo ), is a must-see for tourists, while barely 30km from Harare, one can visit the Mbizi (zebra) Game Park for a touch of grace. Good visibility in most of the game parks presents a unique opportunity for tourists to walk unguided without the risk of being attacked by wild animals.
Zimbabwe has a rich culture of wildlife conservation. In pre-colonial times, when the indigenous people survived on hunting and gathering, they killed only what they needed. All by-products were utilized; nothing was allowed to go to waste. As a result of this tradition of conservation, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1997 recognized Zimbabwe as a world leader in wildlife conservation.
Wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe is enshrined in the amended National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1990, which is administered by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. In terms of the Act, the Authority is responsible for training rangers and ensuring that the country has a thriving wildlife population.
Zimbabwe owes its robust wildlife population to the training policies of the Authority. Rangers are trained for an effective three years and re-examined every two years. The rangers have jurisdiction on both private and state land. The Authority also expects nothing less than the highest degree of discipline from the rangers, who accompany all safari guides on tours, meticulously recording every detail of the trip.
The Authority is launching a programme to protect the country's vulnerable rhino population, dubbed 'Operation Stronghold'. To show its determination to protect wildlife, the Authority has allocated over 60% of its 2007 budget towards the protection of animals. Some NGO's have also stepped in and donated equipment to ensure the project is a success.
The Authority has also designed training programmes for newly resettled farmers, most of whom lacked expertise on wildlife conservation. The new farmers have now been taught how to conserve wildlife. The Authority also encouraged those farmers who had excess wildlife on their properties not to cull but sell some of the animals to other farmers. Government's 2006 declaration that 'all wildlife whether on private or state land is state property' has buttressed the Authority's conservation activities. In terms of the law, any farmer who kills animals without prior permission from the Authority will be prosecuted. Resettled farmers are also required to submit an annual population report to the Authority to prevent unauthorized killing on private farms.
As a result of these conservation measures, the Zimbabwe elephant population has shot to 100 000 against the country's carrying capacity of 45 000. This has created competition between the elephants and rural communities as the elephants at times destroy vegetation and crops. To minimise these conflicts, therefore, the Government introduced the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). Under the programme, communities took responsibility for managing wildlife in their own areas. As one scholar once said, 'for an environmental policy to be effective the local community needs to understand it and see itself as accruing benefits from the policy'. The National Parks and Wildlife Authority therefore only retains a supervisory role, while the rural communities themselves manage the wildlife. A wildlife committee is then appointed to take charge of counting animals, anti-poaching activities, environmental education and resolving conflicts which arise from 'problem animals.' Game scouts are also trained to help stop poaching and manage wildlife. Benefits that accrue to the communities as a result of this responsibility include new schools, grinding mills or cash payments to each household.
Although under CITES Zimbabwe's elephant populations are classified in Appendix 11 , prior authority has to be sought before any commercial shipments of raw ivory to export markets. Zimbabwe has thus been seeking authorization to export shipments of raw ivory to designated international markets. The profits obtained from the sales are ploughed back into wildlife conservation.
With numerous varieties of wildlife and good conservation policies it is easy to understand why wildlife is at the very heart of Zimbabwe's tourism and why Zimbabwe is the darling of wildlife lovers.
For more information visit www.tourism.gov.zw