THE status of Mana Pools National Park as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)-designated World Heritage Site is under threat if the Zimbabwean government approves an application by a local company to conduct gas and petroleum exploration in the area.
Conservationists have been outraged by the application.
A total of 17 580 people have signed a petition on the change.org website objecting to the plan to carry out mining explorations by a firm called Shallom Mining Company.
The petition, which has drawn the largest number of signatures on the website, was organised by Sally Dennis, a wildlife conservationist.
The deadline for submission of objections was 19 May.
Unesco bestowed Mana Pools World Heritage Site status in 1984.
The implication of withdrawal of World Heritage Site status by Unesco will be a blow to the government because it would mean reduction of tourist arrivals at the game park which rake in much-needed forex for the country.
Located in Mashonaland West on the southern bank of the Zambezi River that serves as the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Mana Pools National Park hosts an estimated 12 500 elephants, 3 000 hippopotamuses, more than 260 lions, cheetahs and wild dogs, according to 2020 estimates.
The heritage site covers 676 600 hectares, spanning the Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore safari areas.
However, a fortnight ago there were revelations in the Government Gazette through General Notice 608 of 2023 that Shallom Mining company had approached the Mashonaland West mining board with an application for exclusive exploration of natural gas and petroleum oil in an area that covers 130 000 hectares of Mana Pools.
Part of the general notice issued by the Mashonaland West mining board chairperson Pfungwa Kunaka reads: “It is hereby notified, that in terms of section 87 (4) of the Mines and Minerals Act, that Shalom Mining Corporation has applied to the Mining Affairs Board for an exclusive prospecting order, over an area described in the schedule, in the Mashonaland West mining district,” reads the Government Gazette of 28 April.
“The applicant intends to prospect for petroleum oil and gas within the area which has been reserved against prospecting pending determination of this application. Prospecting authority is sought upon registered base mineral blocks within the reservation.”
In the event that mining operations are allowed to take place inside the game park, Unesco may decide to withdraw the World Heritage Site status to the reserved game park.
Farai Maguwu, the Centre for Natural Resources and Governance director, concurred in an interview with The NewsHawks that the status may be withdrawn due to the threat of extinction of wildlife.
“If the mining project inside Mana Pools is approved, Unesco may withdraw the World Heritage Site status.
“A lot of animals are under threat following the application to carry out mining operations in Mana Pools Game Park. It is home to several animal species including elephants that number 12 000, buffaloes which are more than 16 000 and there are hundreds of bird species in that area.
“Apart from that, it is a very natural wilderness and I think that is what has earned it the World Heritage Site status. And it is something to be proud of when you have such a place of global significance. It means it is an area that markets Zimbabwe by virtue of its World Heritage Site status,” he said.