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Authorities prime Matusadona for Black Rhino re-introduction

KARIBA – A national park on the shores of Lake Kariba is slowly reawakening after coming to the edge of decimation from illegal fishing, gold mining and poaching of ivory.

Matusadona National Park, which was proclaimed a national park in 1975, was originally a significant stronghold for black rhino and elephants.

However, diminishing financial resources made it difficult to adequately protect the Park from human pressures seen across the country and continent in conservation areas.

A 20-year management agreement between Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and African Parks that came into effect in December 2019, has set the tone for change and breathed new life.

On law enforcement, Matusadona National Park’s anti-poaching unit carried out 360 arrests and confiscated over 100 small makeshift boats in 2021 in a battle against illegal fish poaching.

The Park is confronting the challenge of illegal fishing, gold mining and bushmeat poaching with an increased law enforcement presence, as well as community engagement and development initiatives.

Matusadona National Park field operations manager Michael Pelham said by working with local communities, the Park has been strengthening fishery ownership and improving the understanding of sustainable fishing practices.

The Park is also strengthening human wildlife conflict monitoring, and mitigation programmes in surrounding communities, officials say.

These include cattle boma projects to reduce lion attacks, training in Chilli brick manufacture to deter elephants and improving vegetable garden fencing.

“What we have got here is quite a lot of money going into infrastructure development. A lot of training going on, and recruitment of additional staff and resources, just to try and bring ourselves to a very modern level of operation,” said Pelham.

“We have found that the way we manage these parks has changed considerably in the last 20 or 30 years. A lot more people and resources are needed,” he continued.

“This year we spent around US$3,6 million. Next year, we are anticipating an increased budget.”

African Parks provides the funding solutions required to effectively manage the Park while ZimParks are the owners of the Park and are responsible for legislation and policy.

An aerial survey of Matusadona National Park in October 2020, revealed approximately 700 elephants, 470 buffalo, 4,000 impala and 1,000 hippos on the valley floor.

Ten elephants were collared in 2021, and over 200 zebra translocated into the Park.

Through a partnership with World Bicycle Relief, 200 bicycles were donated to schoolchildren who live further than four kilometres from their school.

On the rehabilitation side, the national park is making an effort to re-introduce black rhinos by 2025.

The last rhino in the park was lost in 2019.

Authorities at the Park have subsequently been implementing extensive measures to eliminate poaching and make it possible to reintroduce this critically endangered species.

Zimbabwe’s rhino population remains among the bright sparks on the African continent after it increased by 14 percent from a total 887 in 2017 to now stand at 1,033 as at November 2022.

ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo laid tribute to ZimParks partnership with African Parks adding that good governance is critical especially at a time when protected areas are facing an uncertain period.

“Over the past few years, we have been struggling to fund wildlife, as management we have been getting into a lot of partnerships. We have partnerships in Gonarezhou, mid-Zambezi which are similar to what we have here at Matusadona with African Parks,” said Farawo.

“We have seen some improvements in terms of staff accommodation for our officers, roads are being maintained and issues of human – wildlife conflict are being attended to timeously because there are resources.

“This project is helping the community by addressing issues of fisheries, law enforcement on the lake and shore and we have been seeing the results. These are the kind of partnerships we have been asking for.”

Farawo added that the partnership has allowed the national park to reawaken.

“Into the third year of this partnership we boasted the numbers of wildlife, we have put in about 250 Zebras, Impalas, we were suppose to put in buffaloes but we could not do so due to the issue of foot and mouth, we are also looking to reintroduce black rhinos. Matusadona is well known for black rhinos…the Park is flourishing because of the joint efforts with our partners.”