|1. Juni 2017
German take control of Gonarezhou, local communities sceptical
Government has surrendered management of the Gonarezhou National Park to a German based-firm, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), after failing to contain rampant poaching which was threatening to wipe out the game park’s teeming wildlife.
The arrangement was reportedly consummated in November last year, as a result of a partnership between government and FZS which has been running since 2007.
The new arrangement has, however, unsettled communities surrounding the wildlife sanctuary, who feel that they are being shut out of the park’s conservation efforts.
Information obtained by the Financial Gazette indicates that government has temporarily handed over the park’s management to FZS after realising that the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZIMPARKS) was being overwhelmed by poachers, some of whom were using sophisticated equipment such as helicopters, machine guns and poison to kill game in unsustainably large numbers.
ZIMPARKS has previously reported cases of deadly armed battles, not only in Gonarezhou but across the country, between poachers and its rangers, some of which have resulted in casualties on both sides.
ZIMPARKS statistics indicate that 20 elephants were killed by poachers inside the park last year. Eleven of the elephants were shot, while nine succumbed to cyanide poisoning and robbed the country of about US$2 million in potential revenue. Each animal had an estimated value of US$100 000. Another 10 were killed between June and July of 2015.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Prince Mupazviriho, declined to comment on the matter and referred questions to ZIMPARKS.
ZIMPARKS acting public relations manager, Nyasha Simukai, confirmed the agreement, but said ZIMPARKS was still active in Gonarezhou. He said the agreement was arrived at after realising that the previous deal in which FZS was just giving donations without being actively involved in the management of the game reserve was unsustainable.
“In 2007 Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management approached Frankfurt Zoological Society to assist with funding to set up an Intensive Black Rhino Protection Zone in Chipinda Pools of Gonarezhou National Park. During negotiations and through mutual agreement by the two potential partners, the rhino conservation project was upgraded to a partnership arrangement covering management of the whole national park.
“The agreement signed by the parties did not provide a model that allowed for the delivery of effective and efficient management of Gonarezhou and the building of financial sustainability of Gonarezhou. It did not manage to fully unlock the real potential of Gonarezhou. The parties, therefore, decided to come up with a model that would encourage sustainability of the park through the development of additional revenue streams and further investment. It was agreed to form a conservation trust with ZIMPARKS and FZS being the founders. The board of trustees have equal representation of members seconded from both parties, three from Frankfurt Zoological Society and three from Parks and Wildlife Management Authority,” said Simukai.
He added that day to day operations were under a committee consisting of employees seconded from both ZIMPARKS and FZS. FZS has injected US$19 million into conservation since 2011 to finance the rehabilitation of the park’s perimeter fence and bringing in anti-poaching technologies such as detector drones, surveillance cameras and Global Positioning System equipment as well as patrol vehicles to curb poaching.
FZS project leader, Hugo Van Der Westhuitzen, said FZS was “co-managing” Gonarezhou, describing the arrangement as “a very exciting and innovative project which can have big benefits for conservation as well as communities”.
“FZS has been supporting ZIMPARKS since 2007 with financial and technical support through the Gonarezhou Conservation Project (GCP). FZS has an agreement with the Ministry (of Environment, Water and Climate) for that. GCP was successful but it could not achieve some very important objectives especially in relation with tourism development and support to communities. This is why ZIMPARKS and FZS decided to form the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust (GCT),” said Van Der Westhuitzen.
The arrangement will expire in 2020.
Gonarezhou, which covers 5 053 square kilometres, is Zimbabwe’s second largest game reserve after Hwange National Park measuring 14 651 square kilometres.
The wildlife sanctuary, which harbours some of the big five, is part of the planned Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park which straddles the boarders of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.
It links the Limpopo National Park of Mozambique, Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou as well as Manjinji Pan Sanctuary and Malipati Safari Areas in Zimbabwe.
Local communities are, however, seething with anger and have vowed to take on government over the issue.
Chiredzi community leaders, who feel they have been left with no role to play in Gonarezhou, said they had been shut out and are not benefitting from the takeover.
“We first realised that things are not well for us when we were left out when the agreement was signed. Our suspicions were confirmed when the local community was not considered for a post on the Gonarezhou board,” said Chiredzi East legislator, Denford Masiya, whose constituency covers the bulk of the park.
“People here are saying we should know what benefit the agreement brings them, but no one speaks to them. The Germans have fenced them off; the fence is so tight that even a small animal like a hare cannot escape,” he added.
Chiredzi Town Council chief executive officer, Isaac Matsilele, also added his voice to growing complaints about lack of benefits accruing to the local authority.
“In some parts of the world, proprietorship, price incentives, and devolved responsibility for management, accompanied by effective regulation, have increased wildlife and protected habitats, particularly for iconic and valuable species. This is the same model which we hoped would be adopted for Gonarezhou but that has not been the case. There is very little financial benefit to council from that park and it’s very sad,” he complained.
“Current efforts to incorporate stakeholder engagement typically do not fully acknowledge or address the social conflicts that lie beneath the surface of conservation issues, nor do they consistently create the necessary conditions for productive transformation of the root causes vanishing wildlife species. We have a big problem now a community which frowns at its supposed benefactor. We need to realise that the ultimate level of social carrying capacity for many wildlife species in the park will in the long run largely depend on the extent to which conservation can reconcile these social problems, thereby increasing social receptivity to conservation goals,” he added.
Van Der Westhuitzen admitted that since the arrangement became operational in March and was not yet fully understood by communities, “there is still a bit of uncertainty”. “We are in the process to do awareness, and I am glad to inform you that a major objective of the GCT is to explore options for communities to benefit from Gonarezhou, so they will certainly not be excluded,” Van Der Westhuitzen.
Simukai said communities would continue benefitting from the arrangement, but did not give specific details of how they would benefit.
“ZIMPARKS believes in sustainable utilisation of wildlife resources. Utilisation of the park and its resources will continue to be done in a manner that benefits surrounding communities. The idea is for the park to become an economic driver for rural communities adjacent to Gonarezhou by involving them in the economic and conservation activities there,” he said.
(Financial Gazette, Harare)