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SOS Rhino : In the News : Irrigation project threatens wildlife sanctuary

Irrigation project threatens wildlife sanctuary


Staff Reporter
The Financial Gazette – South Africa

The government’s plan to grow food crops using irrigation in Masvingo could result in the loss of a wildlife sanctuary that environmentalists this week said could be ploughed through as part of the project, scaring off foreign hunters who are tomorrow expected to bid for hunting concessions at the park.

Under the Nuanetsi irrigation project, the government has contracted a Chinese company to develop 100 000 hectares of land in a deal it says will lead to Zimbabwe, facing severe food shortages, being restored as southern Africa’s bread basket.

Environmentalists said Hurungwe Safari Area, located in the lower Zambezi valley, could be affected by the project and in fact officials of the District Development Fund and Agricultural Development Authority had set up a base in the safari area.

The two government-controlled departments are spearheading ploughing under the Nuanetsi project.
Sources said a manager had already been deployed to the area in preparation for ploughing and planting, despite objections from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority base station in Marongora.

The Hurungwe Safari Area, a sanctuary for several wild animals including cheetahs, leopards, elephants and black rhino, is under the management of the National Parks.

Environment and Tourism Minister Francis Nhema confirmed that his ministry had been warned of the danger to the wildlife sanctuary.

He told the Financial Gazette: "I have heard about it, someone called me on the issue. I am told that there is a farm located in that area, maybe that is where they want to plant.

"I have since asked for maps from National Parks to see if the parks area is being affected."

He said he would take "appropriate action" once he was satisfied that the area that would be affected by the irrigation project was part of the National Parks.

He said: "We do not want to make noise about it then at the end of the day this place turns out not to be a national parks area."

But officials with the National Parks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were concerned that the presence of agricultural machinery at Hurungwe Safari Area could affect the sale of hunting concessions, scheduled for tomorrow.

They said foreign hunters would want to be taken around the sanctuary for onsite inspections and they might be put off by the presence of the machinery.

The National Parks officials said if the safari area was affected by the irrigation project, it would be another blow for wildlife sanctuaries in the Zambezi valley, which have been hit by a spate of invasions by landless peasants.

They said many of the settlers had begun planting crops on parks set aside for wildlife.

"Several places such as Chiufe area that is located in the Charara estates have been affected by people settling themselves where they want," said one official.

"There are also people from Hurungwe area who have resettled themselves illegally in the national parks area. Now we are being told that Hurungwe Safari Area has to be ploughed for the Mashonaland West food initiative."
He added: "Every time we raise these issues of people settling themselves in our weekly meetings, we are told this is a politically sensitive matter which can only be solved by politicians."

Zimbabwe’s wildlife industry is estimated to have lost more than $6 billion and 50 percent of its wild animals through poaching in the past two years, which has been worsened by the invasion of white-owned farms by ruling ZANU PF supporters.

Some villagers who were carried away by the euphoria of the land invasions settled themselves in wildlife areas, causing damage to habitat that environmentalists say could take more than a decade to restore.



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