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Human-wildlife conflict explodes in Hwange

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…droughts, overstocking, mining spark war

AN unusual war — between humans and animals — is raging in the mineral-endowed and wildlife-rich Hwange area as the battle for survival between the two species which are strange bedfellows intensifies.

OWEN GAGARE
Humans are fighting to make money from minerals that lie underground where animals are battling to hold sway across the vast swathe of the wildlife ecosystem for survival.


The intensity of war increased after the death of two elephants this week in the area following their collision with heavy mining dump trucks on the road. This raised the temperature of the perennial human-wildlife conflict in communities that live on the edges of animal habitats, especially where there is a hive of mining activities.


Two elephants, estimated to be worth US$40 000, were rammed to death on Tuesday night by a speeding heavy 40-tonne dump truck at the Zambezi Gas and Coal Mine concession. The truck is owned by one of the coal mining companies near Sinamatela Camp inside the Hwange National Park.

Reports say the driver escaped unscathed, while the dump truck remained intact although it left two elephants dead.


Zambezi Gas, a locally owned mining company with over 200 million tonnes of coal reserves covering 8 000 hectares of land, is one of the entities extracting coal in the area, together with Makomo Resources near the Sinamatela Camp, less than 20 kilometres away from the concession areas.


Wildlife, particularly elephants, roam the area and sometimes disrupt mining—drawing the battle lines between humans and animals.


Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo on Wednesday afternoon tweeted there had been an “accident” which killed two elephants.


“It is unfortunate that two elephants have been killed in a road accident in Hwange,” Farawo said.
Immediately thereafter, animal rights activist Sharon Hoole asked questions.


“Can you elaborate…what kind of road accident kills not one but two elephants?”

A tweet from Captured in Africa, a safari group, said: “Sadly road accidents aren’t unfortunate, they are a result of human invasion, lack of infrastructure to secure the animals’ territory and safe passage, and irresponsible road users. Let’s address these issues.”


Other comments said there was an urgent need to de-escalate the tensions between humans and animals in the area by securing the wildlife habitats from people encroachment.


In an interview with The NewsHawks yesterday, Farawo said they were still investigating the cause of the accident.


“Unfortunately there was an accident in Hwange which killed two elephants. We are investigating the cause of the accident. We are now sounding like a broken record that our elephants are overpopulated and this has resulted in them encroaching into communities, killing people and destroying crops,” he said.


“Hwange’s elephant population has more than trebled its ecological carrying capacity. Its carrying capacity is 15 000 elephants, but we are now sitting at more than 45 000 elephants.”


Animal rights activists have always questioned government elephant statistics, as they are opposed to culling, a wildlife management practice through which animal numbers are reduced through slaughter to curb overpopulation.


Zimbabwe is battling with the central question: To cull or not to cull? The Association for Tourism Hwange, an organisation of private safari operators in the locality, said mining companies operating in the area should exercise caution to avoid unnecessary loss of both human and wildlife.


 “There is a certain expectation that any business operating within the buffer zone of a national park would exercise the due caution and care while carrying out its operations. This instance in which the Zambezi Gas truck driver was reportedly speeding is highly concerning and, worse yet, we don’t know how many smaller animal species have been killed by coal-mining trucks and other traffic in and around the entrance to Hwange National Park, though unreported,” the association’s chairperson, Elisabeth Pasalk, said.


“Urgent action should be taken on the part of the authorities responsible for keeping the wildlife in Hwange safe. Is there sufficient road signage? Are speed limits imposed and enforced? Also, what is the penalty from ZimParks so as to alleviate any future unnecessary killing of elephants and other wildlife in the area? At the very least, the company involved should be taking steps to make amends and do something for the wildlife park. There is need to pay attention that if a large animal so visible can be killed by a speeding truck which is operated by a coal mine that is clearly familiar with wildlife traffic in that area, what more the danger of our human populations within Hwange?”


In recent months, communities in and around Hwange have been grappling with the growing menace and fear of problem animals roaming around human settlements, causing destruction and social problems.
Clashes between humans and animals have escalated due to climate change-induced drought, overstocking and strict CITES regimes which make it difficult to cull the animals. Mining encroachment has exacerbated the problem as people push deeper into wildlife territories through exploration, drilling and mineral extraction activities.
Only in September, government was forced to ban mining activities in national parks after a storm of protest by wildlife and environmental activists over Chinese encroachment into Hwange National Park.
Government had awarded two coal-mining concessions to Chinese companies inside the Hwange National Park, the country’s flagship wildlife conservation area and home to one of the largest populations of elephant remaining in Africa. Following public outrage, government retreated and banned mining in the area. The eastern boundary of the Hwange National Park runs adjacent to Hwange Colliery—the country’s largest coal producer. The company’s coal deposits extend west, deep into the park.
Government’s allocation of the mining concessions to Chinese companies was only exposed after a conservation group, the Bhejane Trust—which monitors and protects black rhino in the national park—discovered a group of Chinese nationals mining inside the park.

Following their arrest, the Chinese returned with a permit giving them the right to carry on with exploratory drilling in there.


A follow-up investigation revealed that the mining concessions had been awarded to two Chinese companies as “special grants” which “apparently can only be awarded by the President”.


This implied that President Emmerson Mnangagwa had authorised mining in a national park.


The coal mining concessions were SG7263 granted to Afrochine Energy, which is part of the Tsingshan group, and SG5756 granted to the Zimbabwe Zhongxin Coal Mining group.


Makomo Resources, Zambezi Coal Gasification Company, Hwange Colliery Company Limited western area and mostly Chinese companies are located closer to animal conservation areas and, as a result, forcing animals to stray into human settlements as they move away from the noise. This fuels the conflict.


Recently, it emerged that Billy Rautenbach will commence mining operations close to the sacred Bumbusi historic ruins at Sinamatela in Hwange, which will also generate new tensions in the area.

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