THE government is violating its own statutes on the protection of the rhinoceros, bringing into question President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s publicly expressed commitment to wildlife conservation.
In 2011, the country declared the rhino a “specially protected species” in a policy and management framework signed by the government. The invasion of the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy by illegal occupiers who include political bigwigs and prominent personalities flies in the face of official wildlife conservation policy.
The land grab also flouts other commitments the country has made in the past to protect wildlife in general.
These include the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement; Parks and Species Management Plans and Policies as well as a raft of pledges made by President Mnangagwa when he officially opened the inaugural African Union-United Nations Wildlife Economy Summit in Victoria Falls on 23 June 2019.
The summit was attended by a cosmopolitan audience which included 30 African heads of state and cabinet ministers; African Union commissionder for rural economy and agriculture Joseph Sacko; secretary-general of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) Ivonne Higuero and the United Nations Environment Programme deputy executive secretary Joyce Msuya.
In his address to that summit, Mnangagwa pledged to promote an “integrated concept of conservancies which involves strong private sector participation” and reiterated that conservancies had also “become important partners in developing tourism activities and products in non-traditional tourism areas, thereby enhancing broad-based empowerment.”
In the 2011 Zimbabwe Rhino Policy and Management Framework, the government said it recognised and appreciated “the heavy responsibility borne by those who choose to dedicate themselves to protecting and increasing the rhino populations of Zimbabwe”.
Represented by the then Environment and Natural Resources Management minister Francis Nhema, the government said it recognised and supported “the effort that is being made on the ground by the rhino custodians to physically protect the rhinos.”
Before the 2011 framework, the country had in 1992 adopted the Zimbabwe Black Rhino Conservation Strategy and the Black Rhino Conservation Project Emergency Plan aimed at protecting the endangered species in Intensive Protection Zones (IPZs) like the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy.
Output 1 of the 2011 Rhino Policy and Management Framework said Zimbabwe would create: “Appropriate management actions, security and law enforcement to minimise illegal losses of rhinos from all populations.”
The framework also clearly set up biological monitoring and management benchmarks.
Objective 2 and key 2 of the framework reads: “Implementing effective biological and ecological management and monitoring of each rhino population and their respective habitats to achieve optimum population growth rates.”
In the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy, the rhino habitat has already been harmed by illegal human settlements which go against the policy framework.
A wildlife farmer at the conservancy told The NewsHawks that large packs of dogs are being kept in the area by the new settlers, a practice which is disruptive and detrimental to wildlife production and stability.
“It is common knowledge that without committed security, wildlife comes under immense threat. Unfortunately, poaching is currently at alarming levels due to the situation prevailing on the ground in the conservancy.”
“For example, the sable antelope population in the Midlands Black Rhino Conservancy is worth millions of US dollars, and these animals are being indiscriminately killed and poached at a fraction of true value as bush meat,” said the farmer.