CONSERVATION, COMMUNITIES, and COVID-19
An Interview with Fulton Mangwanya, Director General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Fulton Mangwanya is one of the most important voices in African conservation today. As Director General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, he is responsible for overseeing the management of Africa’s largest elephant population, the continent’s fourth largest rhino population, as well as the world’s largest peace park—The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
The task is not always easy. Conservation in Zimbabwe must be married with meeting the needs of its people, 72 percent of whom still live below the poverty line, and allowing the country to develop its economy. As a parastatal agency that receives no funding from the government, the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority also must deliver conservation through revenue it generates itself, outside investment, partnerships with the private sector, and economic incentives. The challenges facing the agency have only increased in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impacts on all of these support streams.
As the United States increasingly wrestles with conserving its biodiversity and maintaining its public lands, lessons learned and innovations in agency administration from countries like Zimbabwe may help light the path toward achieving conservation goals. PERC research fellow Catherine Semcer recently sat down with Director General Mangwanya to discuss the successes and challenges during his tenure with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority as well as how his non-traditional education in international relations and politics prepared him to lead Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts.
How has the education and experience that you acquired prepared you in your capacity as DG to tackle the challenges that come with managing a parastatal as complex as ZimParks?
My career goal is to contribute to the national developmental agenda in the conservation industry through security enhancement for wildlife resource protection, human capital development, and catalysing improvements on cooperative governance issues affecting management of public enterprises, particularly the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which envisions to become the world leader in sustainable conservation practices.
In the early years of my career path, I had a dream of becoming a commercial farmer and enrolled at Chibero College of Agriculture in 1986 to study the basics in Agribusiness. However, that career in Agriculture was short-lived when I grasped the opportunity to serve in the President’s Department in 1988, where I served seven different stations with distinction, handling various portfolios and rising through ranks of leadership positions. I completed a BSc Honours Degree in Politics and Administration in 2004 at the University of Zimbabwe and scored many achievements when I became Head of the Serious Crimes Division, which deals with Drug Trafficking and Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Arms Trafficking, as well as Illegal Wildlife Trade and Wildlife Transnational Poaching Issues involving the use of various weapons that are used to slay Zimbabwe’s wildlife heritage.
The exposure from working with various countries to tackle transnational crimes motivated me to consider sharpening my academic prowess with an MSc in International Relations that I completed in 2013 at University of Zimbabwe. I was appointed Chairperson of the State Security Sub-committee for Southern African Development Community training programme where I facilitated national security training seminars in various countries. During the 2015-2016 period, I served with distinction in the Directorate responsible for Research, Evaluation and Analysis whilst being a member of the Air Zimbabwe Board until 2017.
On joining the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in August 2017 as Director General, I was already pursuing PhD studies covering land politics and implications for biodiversity conservation with the Faculty of Social Studies at University of Zimbabwe. Reflecting on my 29 years of service in various capacities in the security sector, coupled with my academic qualifications, I came as a complete package with determination to transform ZimParks and confront the challenges that are confronting wildlife conservation in the 21st century.
When you assumed the top executive role in Zimparks the agency had $25 million legacy debt, something you successfully removed from the books. How did you achieve this?
Taking over an organisation that was struggling financially was both challenging and an exciting endeavour for me. When I assumed the top executive role at ZimParks, staff morale was relatively low because they had salary arrears, wage arrears, unfulfilled contractual obligations, pension fund arrears, outstanding field allowances, disconnections of water and electricity supply, insufficient medical coverage due to lack of acquittal of subscriptions, insufficient tools of trade, bank accounts being garnished for non-payment of statutory obligations that included Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), and National Social Security Authority (NSSA) dues. One of the main issues that was making it worse is the legacy debt that the organisation was nursing since establishment of the Authority.
The challenges that ZimParks was facing did not require rocket science but a strategy, which could take the organisation to the desired future, and a motivated and productive workforce that should work out of the challenges. It required innovation, teamwork, and implementation of reasonable austerity measures to plug out certain elements that were retrogressive. Getting everyone to focus on the vision and mission of the Authority was the greatest task and making the committed staff happy was important and hence I had to put priority on clearing all staff dues first (and that was done), then worked with my staff to clear the legacy debt.
We embarked on diverse revenue generating and resource mobilisation strategies. These included revisiting lease agreements, creation of a credit control department, fostering partnerships, coming up with new revenue streams, and re-engagement of the donor community. The Authority also went on a massive marketing drive for its products and services. Adherence to good corporate governance practices and business ethics was an important part of the solution puzzle, culminating in the first-ever Client Service Charter adopted by the Authority. ZIMRA dues were cleared and we got a tax clearance certificate after eight years without one. Retirees are now accessing their pensions and on the medical front, we now have our own medical aid facility, the ParksMed Health Fund which is performing well.
Through sound financial management and discipline, the USD $25million legacy debt was cleared by December 2019, putting ZimParks on a strong footing for a growth trajectory. It has been an exciting endeavour for me because despite all the challenges, the Authority was still delivering on its mandate, and I believed in the possibility of the improved parastatal that it has become today. To ensure ZimParks achieves its mandate and vision, I made sure an approved Strategic Plan for 2019-2023 is in place and well aligned with the national thrust for devolution. Zimparks adopted a decentralised structure in the form of eight functional clusters that are geared towards service provision and getting more connected to the society we serve. It is not a secret that my administration has already transformed ZimParks and improved significantly on cooperative governance matters that used to scare away potential partners and investors.
Tourism had been counted on as a sector to help drive ZimParks’ continued solvency and lead Zimbabwe to being a middle-income country. How has the tourism shutdown resulting from the Covid-19 Pandemic impacted these aspirations?
First of all, I believe that the decision made by the Government of Zimbabwe to shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic was important, as protecting human life is more important than anything we can think of. Besides, the entire world had shut-down anyway and there was no tourism to talk about. The shutdowns at all levels (including the national shutdown) resulted in loss of revenue that could have been generated to support conservation in Zimbabwe, and as you know, conservation is one of the most expensive enterprises—it is not cheap to sustain conservation operations. The Authority needs budgetary support of approximately USD $25 million annually to effectively cover essential functional elements that go into wildlife protection and monitoring.
Tourism services that are provided by the Authority itself and private operators such as game viewing, water-sports, and other adventure activities were all closed. I am happy now that the Government of Zimbabwe, through our Ministry, the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry launched the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy in Victoria Falls Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage resort on the 6th of August 2020. Nevertheless, most countries in the world are still implementing lockdown measures to protect their citizens. Borders are still closed and no international flight services are operating for tourism. June and July are normally our traditional peak periods for international travel as our visitors from the north will be taking summer holiday breaks. 2020 is a different year, and as an optimistic individual, I can only hope for better days to come. We will start with promoting domestic tourism (this has always been our Strategy in the National Tourism Master Plan anyway, even before the Covid-19 pandemic), then grow the cake with regional and international tourism as conditions permit.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not, however, shut down our aspirations. We shall, as the old adage says, “pick ourselves up, and start all over again.” Our national vision to be a middle-income economy by 2030 was bound to face hurdles including natural disasters. The vision will remain unchanged, but the trajectory to achieve it shall be adjusted in the wake of the shocks resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic is indeed a threat to the solvency of the Authority as we have lost nearly 70% of our revenues. We have come up with a number of survival strategies that we are already implementing. Some are short-term and some are long-term. We will not sit back and fold our hands and watch our wildlife perish because Covid-19 is upon us and tourism is not bringing revenue. Wildlife conservation is a national, regional, and global issue. We need all the support that we can get during this time, and I call upon the donor community to support wildlife conservation and partner with us on this cause, a cause that I strongly believe in even during these challenging times.
ZimParks stakeholder relations have also improved significantly over the years. More donors are forthcoming to support conservation in Zimbabwe. The Authority`s revenue-generating capacity significantly improved and diversified. A number of new products have also been launched and infrastructure/equipment (including vehicles) procured. We are on a recapitalisation drive and to those who are willing to come and work with us, Zimbabwe is open for business in the conservation industry.
Has Zimbabwe seen any increase in elephant or rhino poaching since tourism began to decline as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic? If so, what areas have been most impacted and what has ZimParks been doing to address the situation?
Zimbabwe has a zero-tolerance stance against poaching and only the daring ones that do not care if they lose their lives proceed on their trip of doom to plunder our vulnerable wildlife resources. We recorded a decrease in the number of rhinos poached between the first six months of 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. Nineteen rhinos were poached in the first half of 2019 and only four have been poached from January to June 2020. In 2020 the rhinos were poached in February and April. However, more elephants have been poached in the first half of 2020 than in the previous year. Thirteen elephants have been poached this year and seven were poached in the first half of 2019. The Zambezi Valley is the poaching hotspot where most cases were recorded
ZimParks has put in place a raft of measures to curb poaching during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic which include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Conducting intelligence-led strategic deployments.
- Aerial surveillance flights to compliment the ground patrols
- Strengthening informer networking at the local and regional level
- Making use of patrol dogs on tracking poachers where we have functional canine units
- Deployment of drones to increase detection of illegal activities and patrol coverage
- Joint operations with the other national law enforcement agencies
- Awareness campaigns for rangers to know more about Covid-19 and reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus as they execute their duties
- Improving radio communication for field operations and transport access in protected areas for deployments and administration
- Resource mobilisation through our partners to support ranger field operations and welfare and protect staff from exposure to Covid-19.
The Authority is very grateful to a number of stakeholders who have extended a helping hand to support our operations so far
Your agency has a partnership with the NGO International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to support ZimParks’ anti-poaching efforts. IFAW has had a great deal of experience supporting the Kenya Wildlife Service in their efforts to curtail poaching. Can you discuss some of the lessons and outcomes this partnership is bringing to Zimbabwe?
It is not a secret that IFAW is building new bridges with determination to make conservation impacts for wildlife, habitat, and communities. ZimParks through forging new partnerships for conservation is embracing more players in the field and also repairing broken bridges and making reengagement efforts to ensure Zimbabwe’s conservation efforts are recognised at regional and global levels. ZimParks is becoming an envy of many, with a vision of becoming a world leader in sustainable conservation.
The ZimParks-IFAW conservation partnership is premised on a five year MoU and funding commitments that include investment towards support for law enforcement, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, research and monitoring, infrastructure rehabilitation and construction, water management, and community engagement including establishing alternative livelihood options that incentivize local communities to be better stewards of wildlife and other natural resources. The focal project site is the Hwange-Matetsi-Zambezi landscape, with the first phase targeting the Makona sub-sector (the southern part of Hwange National Park). To date the key outcomes of the partnership are as follows:
- Road rehabilitation between Main Camp and Makona has resulted in improved access
- Provision of fuel for mobile patrols, deployment, and uplift of patrols has resulted in increased area coverage
- Provision of patrol rations to field rangers has resulted in improved operational efficiency and a morale boost for the rangers
- Maintenance of vehicles; two land cruisers have undergone major repairs and are now back on the road
- Procurement of a tractor and trailer including a front end loader for the maintenance of roads and fireguards
- Procurement of Covid-19 protection equipment
- Community engagement is being undertaken to maintain good relations with adjacent communities
- Two new land Cruisers to be used for law enforcement have been procured
- Over $250,000 USD have been invested so far under this partnership
- In addition to that, our partner is also bringing in technical and other experiences from various projects across the globe
What is encouraging about this partnership is the willingness to learn from each other. We don’t know it all and neither do they know it all. We are on this journey together with a shared vision of enhancing conservation and development in Zimbabwe.
Looking into the future, I am confident that the partnership objectives will be achieved as most of the key areas for the first phase have already been covered through procurement of patrol equipment, procurement of workshop equipment, procurement of patrol rations, construction of ranger houses and offices at Makona, the establishment of a robust radio communication system, as well as the establishment of pickets at strategic sites.
The following are some of the lessons learned from this partnership:
- Joint planning of the project and transparency on implementation modalities with teams on the ground is necessary to get prioritisation right
- The flexibility of the funding mechanism is one unique attribute of the partnership. IFAW does not dictate what should happen on the ground, our partner is responsive to our requirements at the grassroots level. None of us knew Covid-19 was going to strike at the time of signing of our MoU, and now when the unwelcome visitor affects the world, IFAW is assisting with operational funding in our project area
- We are utilising internal capacity like the workshop mechanics to refurbish vehicles, which can reduce cost. Simply recognising that there is some capacity which is there and utilising it creates good working relations, unlike a situation where a partner wants to take over and do everything for us as if we cannot do anything right. IFAW’s approach is different and that is the kind of assistance we want
- There is a need to communicate more on the milestones and profile the partnership given the huge strides and impact on the ground we’ve had together, and that is what we are doing with IFAW. There is joint ownership of successes, and even if we fail on anything in future, there will be no figure-pointing. We succeed together and also fail together because as partners, we admit we don’t know it all and that there is a learning curve
- Given the huge financial resource needs of Hwange National Park (it’s a very big park in excess of 14,000 km2) and that conservation is an expensive, ongoing undertaking, we believe the coming in of IFAW is one of the best things that has happened and we should be able to attract other funding sources and catalyze the development of a sustainable financing and resourcing mechanism for the area.
Our experiences with the IFAW so far is very positive, and I believe our relationship has grown stronger and will make a significant impact in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.
Do you see public-private partnerships playing a greater role in supporting conservation in Zimbabwe on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Globally protected areas are under severe and growing anthropogenic pressure. Resources for protected area management are not enough, and many protected areas are failing their ecological, economic, and social goals. The situation has been worsened by the impacts of Covid-19 that has resulted in the drying up of tourism revenue needed to finance conservation. In Zimbabwe, there is no fiscal support for financing the management of wildlife areas. Both public and private players have to generate enough financial resources to support their respective operations. Public-private partnerships are increasingly playing a great role in supporting conservation in Zimbabwe and will continue to do so on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Partnerships take many forms that range from delegated management where the public and private players share governance, and the private sector has been delegated the responsibility to manage a protected area, to a co-management arrangement where the public and private partners share the governance and responsibility to manage the area, to financial and technical support by the private player, to the management of the protected area by the public player. In general, Zimbabwe favors the co-management approach. Partnerships are set up to meet an array of protected area context goals which include attracting long-term private conservation financing and resourcing of protected areas, sourcing technical expertise and skills in managing protected areas, and seeking structural improvement in the public entity responsible for managing the protected area system. In the case of Zimbabwe, the goal has been to secure long-term conservation financing and to an extent enhance protected area management skills. Zimbabwe is endowed with a rich wildlife heritage, world-renowned for the professional management of its wildlife resources, and is therefore confident that through working with its various partners has developed the capacity necessary to cross the Covid-19 phase without losing its wildlife.
Zimbabwe is working with a spectrum of partners in programs of various sizes. Some conservation programmes are protected-area-focused, e.g. in Gonarezhou National Park with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Matusadona National Park with the African Parks Network, and Umfurudzi Safari Area with Pioneer Travel and Tourism Limited. Other programs are focused on a portion of a protected area covering various aspects, e.g. the Makona section of Hwange National Park with IFAW. Also, other programs are activity-based, e.g. law enforcement in the Zambezi Valley with the African Wildlife Foundation, and game water supply with Bhejane Trust and Friends of Hwange in Hwange National Park.
Let me point out that in developing countries like Zimbabwe, the establishment of protected areas displaced indigenous local communities from their customary land, i.e. protected areas are found in areas that were historically occupied by local indigenous communities who are now alienated from the management and benefiting from the wildlife resources found therein. In Zimbabwe, protected areas are invariably surrounded by poor local communities who, besides continuing to suffer the brunt of living with the wildlife, are the segment of the society that is most vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19. In this vein, public-private partnerships are not complete and may struggle to register conservation success unless they include local communities as equal partners in decision making and benefit sharing in the partnerships. Thus wherever possible, there is a need to form public-private-community partnerships to manage protected areas.
Partnerships with communities do not necessarily focus on direct benefits from protected areas. Protected area-community partnership should be able to develop programmes and projects that result in reduced demand for natural resources by local communities and increased support for conservation. Partnership programmes and projects should develop community livelihood projects in areas of tourism, agriculture, beekeeping, and fisheries.
Do you find that your relationships with communities bordering national parks are becoming more stressed as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on and, if so, what would you like to do to strengthen these relationships?
The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious blow to our conservation efforts and more strain is now being exerted on our natural resources as traditional sources of income for many people are closed down. Many members of the community have lost jobs, livelihoods, and other benefits due to closure or scaling down of activities in the tourism sector. Lockdowns and other Covid-19-related restrictions have also slowed down day to day economic activities of the communities. The stoppage of tourism inflows and sport hunting proceeds has meant that resources that were previously realised by communities are no longer there. Nevertheless, we are delighted that we are slowly opening up, being very mindful that it will take time to return to normalcy. We have however scaled up our efforts in the Parks and Wildlife Estate to safeguard the natural resources so that once this scourge is over, we still have the resources for the public to enjoy and also for communities to derive benefits from.
Our relationship with communities has over the years improved tremendously as we scaled up engagements through increased awareness campaigns and adopted a more inclusive approach on decisions affecting communities. This includes involving traditional leaders in our activities and discussions. We have moved away from the “them and us” approach towards a united front in wildlife conservation. This means that the sustainable utilisation approach we advocate for is meant to ensure communities derive more tangible benefits from wildlife conservation activities. As you may know, we have been, over the years, working on reviewing the CAMPFIRE model so that benefits are realised at the household level. This is a process that takes time, but we are on a positive trajectory towards achieving this.
An intervention response strategy exists where the Authority is engaging various partners and key stakeholders to try and collectively craft a raft of measures to deal with the emerging “new normal” environment. Some Covid-19 intervention and response packages are being finalised for roll out as appropriate projects to address specifically targeted communities. These projects are being formulated around Covid-19 awareness and education projects as well as exploration around collaboration with other partners to contribute to water provision, Covid-19 personal protective equipment, sanitisers, and sanitary materials, focusing on those areas known as existing and potential poaching hotspots. We will be looking at building the capacity of local communities, which we consider a key intervention option to build sustainability in the National Conservation and Livelihoods Enhancement Programme. The Authority will invest in this area through continual engagement, lobbying, and strengthening partnerships.
For example, we assisted in putting together a proposal that secured EUR 600,000 from KfW for communities in the KAZA TFCA following the Covid-19 pandemic to cushion our local people, and they are very delighted with such kind of support. The Authority participated in a Virtual Trilateral Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area meeting which was held in June 2020. The purpose of the virtual meeting was to identify challenges affecting communities as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic disaster and the possible options of dealing with them. This process is now being crafted into local scenario intervention priority options and will inform Zimbabwe’s approach to the South-East Lowveld Covid-19 Response Mechanism.
The Authority is also actively engaging partners in the United Nations Development Programme Environment Fund and Zambezi Valley Biodiversity Project to address community challenges in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West Provinces. The active involvement of Environmental Management Agency, Forestry Commission, CAMPFIRE Association, and the African Wildlife Foundation, including the relevant Rural District Councils, presents opportunities for realignment of the project to accommodate key elements to mitigate against some of the immediate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Binga District, the Authority is working with partners on the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme Mucheni Project. This project also falls under the KAZA TFCA framework and effort is being invested in exploring interventions and funding community support opportunities under the KAZA TFCA banner.
The Authority is working with other sister institutions like the Environmental Management Agency and Forestry Commission in coming up with suitable interventions into community areas in which ZimParks contributed to the implementation of 100 Day Cycle Projects and Integrated Livelihood Projects in liaison with the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Industry as part of the Project Monitoring and Evaluation effort, in line with the 2019-2023 ZimParks Strategy. A Covid-19 mitigation component is included on all new such projects to be introduced or launched.
Providing community benefits and building community support for conservation has been a longstanding goal of ZimParks, but the road has not always been smooth, as evidenced by the recent theft of solar panels that were powering boreholes in Hwange National Park. Do you find that your relationships with communities bordering national parks are becoming more stressed as the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, and, if so, what would you like to do to strengthen those relationships?
Enhancing community benefits and building support for conservation will remain a priority for ZimParks and as you rightly say, such an endeavour is not always smooth. Going green in all our operations and energy sources is also a priority and that is why we made significant investments in solar equipment. Then criminals pounced on them. Kindly note that the thieves were not all from the local communities, but some came even from across borders and were working with some local elements to maneuver. Crime cannot be condoned and it doesn’t matter where it has taken place and who has done it there is no justification for theft. We are working with other security agents to bring offenders in as appropriate.
Zimbabwe is part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area Treaty along with its neighbors Botswana, Zambia, Angola, and Namibia. How are you working together to weather the current challenges stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic?
The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) is a conservation and development initiative of the Governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe situated in the Okavango and Zambezi river basins. It was established through a Treaty on 18th August 2011 and covers approximately 520,000 km2, making it the largest terrestrial transfrontier conservation area in the world. It comprises various land uses: national parks, forest reserves, conservancies, sanctuaries, wildlife management areas, game management areas, safari areas, agricultural use areas, rangelands, and human settlements.
At the heart of the KAZA TFCA initiative is the hope that the associated ecosystem services including nature-based tourism will be an engine for sustainable rural economic development. Thus, KAZA TFCA promotes a functional landscape approach, transcending international boundaries.
Nonetheless, the global Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on all sectors of society within KAZA TFCA, including wildlife conservation. A particular concern has been the shutdown of the nature-based tourism industry and the loss of funding and livelihood opportunities that it usually supports. Many people employed in the tourism sector were laid off, put on unpaid leave, or reduced paycheck, whilst several community support programmes that provide auxiliary and support services for the conservation and tourism sector are at a stand-still and not generating income for local communities to augment the glaring impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Key institutions that are driving the conservation, tourism, and community development initiatives such as the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks), Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Tourism companies, Community Based Organisations working with various communities, Rural District Councils, and even Non-Governmental Organisations have all been affected in various ways, leaving most incapacitated in 2020 to fulfill their mandate due to lack of resources in this current financial year.
However, the partner states (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), through the KAZA Secretariat have been collaboratively working together to respond to this global challenge at the transboundary level by jointly searching for funding opportunities. The key pillars of support have been identified and these are protected areas, tourism, community livelihoods, and human-wildlife conflict management.
The partner states are actively involved in assisting communities with human-wildlife conflict management issues by attending to cases of problem animals as well undertaking human-wildlife coexistence programmes in collaboration with diverse stakeholders. Moreso, they have been mobilizing resources for patrol equipment, PPE, social safety nets (i.e., food for communities), clinics, schools, etc.
ZimParks has continued to prioritize law enforcement operations through standard patrols under operation ‘Nhakayedu’ meaning ‘Our Heritage’ launched at the beginning of the second quarter. Mobile and local patrols are also being done as per scheduled periods, though not as per the set standard, including resupplying of patrol bases during the patrol period. Coordinated patrols have also been done along borders with Botswana and Zambia.
Further, policymakers have been facilitating the involvement of private industry and other stakeholders in order to tackle this crisis. Tangible benefits arising from these engagements will lead to improved household incomes, reductions in the risk of illegal harvesting of wildlife resources, increased wildlife populations, and improved biodiversity in the entire KAZA TFCA landscape.
Zimbabwe is home to the second-largest elephant population in Africa as well as many other species of wildlife. What kind of support can the international community provide Zimbabwe to help ensure that your country’s successes in conserving wildlife, valued by people around the world, are not lost as a result of events stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic?
Zimbabwe has distinct, significant elephant populations in four range areas namely Matabeleland North West Province, Sebungwe region, Mid Zambezi valley, and South-East Lowveld region. Across the country, noticeable, diverse wildlife species populations apart from the above elephant range areas are found in other protected areas and adjacent communal and private properties.
Zimbabwe has not been spared by the devastating Covid-19. International and national Covid19 containment policies have left many urban and rural communities including those living around protected areas with shattered livelihoods and revenue streams. To eke out a living, communities have and are resorting to the illegal exploitation of readily available natural resources. The most threatened resources include wild faunal and floral species which are being exploited for both commercial and subsistence consumption. Other resources being illegally exploited include minerals like gold, timber, firewood, sand, gravel, thatch grass, and honey, among other readily available resources.
Regardless of Covid-19 impacts such as increased poaching threats, shattered revenue streams from hunting, leases, rentals, and tourism, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) is faced with a mammoth task and is still expected to produce results in tune with its conservation obligation. This means the organization is faced with a skewed shortfall emanating from meager revenue realizations against ballooned, competing budgetary claims to cover conservation, research, administrative, and operational costs. To make matters worse, there is no funding from the national fiscus.
In a bid to make ends meet, the international community needs to consider and reconsider the following:
- Demystify the negative publicity and propaganda hovering over Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. This sees the country reclaiming its vibrant consumptive and photographic tourism status and subsequent re-engagement into the entire global tourism circles. Zimbabwe still maintains its vibrant tourism traits bolstered by natural and cultural, social sites. If and only if the international community can assist Zimbabwe with positive marketing at international and regional fora and as well as electronic media courtesy of various agents, we believe we will start witnessing some positive responses in our tourism receipts as a country in the immediate post-Covid-19 era. Many tourists have a negative perspective about our country as indicated by those that finally “dared” to visit Zimbabwe.
- The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) should relax restrictions on the trade of wildlife specimens, ivory, and rhino horns that have accrued over years in stockpiles from the entire country. Zimbabwe’s stockpiles are burgeoning with ivory and other similar game products that need to be unlocked to finance conservation of the very wildlife they come from.
- CITES should relax restrictions on the international trade of live species of all wildlife from Zimbabwe to the rest of the world, mostly the USA, China, and India among other countries in Asia. We have an environmental time bomb manifesting already in the form of environmental degradation and climate change-induced mortalities and starvation of animals. Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools National Park and Hwange National Park lost over 200 elephants due to scarcity of drinking water and food in the previous winter season. Had it not been for the intervention of other conservation partners with supplementary water and feed, more animals could have been lost. Selling live animals not only relieves areas of pressure from overpopulation of areas, but the revenue is used to meet conservation costs and translocation costs to redistribute animals from overpopulated to less populated areas.
- Donors in their respective countries should be encouraged to channel resources towards conservation of wildlife in Zimbabwe. The resources most needed include vehicles, salaries, ranger patrol allowances, patrol equipment, patrol rations, personal protective equipment, uniforms, among other needs. Conservation is an expensive endeavour. No profit-making expectations are dreamt of. Rather, annual losses are a common phenomenon. To cover the deficit there is a need for external intervention from other conservationists and donors. Many thanks go to various conservation partners working in various key result areas in various ZPWMA protected areas even in this Covid-19 era to complement the organization’s conservation mandate.
- Spearhead community engagement. ZPWMA has to fulfill three community obligations which are (a) community development and empowerment, (b) corporate social responsibility, and (c) social services provision. Communities living adjacent to protected areas are regarded as frontline parties in fighting illegal harvesting of resources. The ability of ZPWMA to support the same communities determines the success of ZPWMA and the country at large to curb illegal resource harvesting. Under community empowerment, ZPWMA should initiate and fund or co-fund implementation of community livelihood projects such as beekeeping, market gardening, fish farming, and water harvesting, among other projects that suit different communities. Under corporate social responsibility, ZPWMA should, for example, conduct environmental awareness campaigns in communities. Under social services provision, ZPWMA should practice swift attendance to human-wildlife conflict cases in communities. It calls for a lot of financial resources from ZPWMA coffers to fulfill these obligations. This has been a challenge for ZPWMA to fulfill under normal circumstances due to resource shortages. The organisation is incapacitated and compromised by the Covid-19 pandemic, struggling to meet these very obligations since the only revenue streams have been shattered. Thus, ZPWMA is mobilizing financial resources from the international community to assist in this.
- Facilitation and promotion of external researchers to collaborate with local researchers in conducting informative and empirical evidence-based guidance to resource management. External researchers, besides bringing in new ideas (data collection techniques, data analysis methods, research equipment both contemporary and existing but in short supply) in the research fraternity, they come in with their resources, and may provide research scholarship to local researchers, resulting in savings for the ZimParks. Partnership with external researchers is, therefore, a platform for researching human resource development.
- Promotion of volunteer tourism or tourists from international destinations into Zimbabwe and the entire African continent. This is a new idea and initiative to be adopted formally in Zimbabwe. Should this be promoted, the country will benefit financially as well as research-wise from this new revenue stream.
Overall, when the Covid-19 pandemic is over and travel restrictions are lifted, CITES representatives should consider visiting Zimbabwe’s ivory stockpiles and wildlife hotspots including any two of the elephant range areas Mana Pools National Park and Hwange National Park. This ground-truthing exercise will enable the representative delegation to have an appreciation of the wildlife numbers, overpopulation, associated land and vegetation destruction, human-wildlife conflict cases and victims. The significant decline in the poaching of elephants is testimony that ZimParks is judiciously achieving its mandate and can remain a shining example of sustainable conservation. Since 2017, ZimParks has been awarded several awards at local and international fora.