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Zim yet to get results of mass elephant die-off

Tatenda Chitagu

Harare—Zimbabwe is yet to get results from laboratory tests being done to ascertain the cause of death of more than 30 elephants found lying on their stomachs in three protected forests in the western parts of the country.

The elephants were found dead in and around the country’s largest game reserve, Hwange National Park and one of the world wonders, Victoria Falls, since late August.

The first batch of 11 elephants were found dead in Pandamasure forests, before the figure continued to rise to 34.

Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu, while ruling out poisoning and poaching because the elephants had their tusks intact and water tests were done, said they suspected the mamals could have died from a bacterial infection, but insisted further tests are being undertaken to ascertain the real cause.

“We had a private laboratory in Victoria Falls that did the tests. They  only suspected that there is a bacteria species that could be contributing to that but they are looking deeper into it. They indicated that they do not have lab capacity to confirm this so we send samples to a number of laboratories in South Africa, UK and the US and we hope within two weeks we will be getting the results,” Ndlovu told the media last month.

Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesperson Tinashe Farawo said the results from samples taken abroad are yet to come.

“We do not have anything new yet as we are awaiting results from the samples taken to the UK, US and SA laboritories for further tests,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Zimbabwe has a population of over 84 000 elephants, which is more than its carrying capacity of 55 000. Last year, 200 elephants from Hwange National Part succumbed to drought between September and November.

The elephant deaths in the country came hard on the heels of similar mysterious deaths of hundreds of the animals from neigbouring Botswana, which is believed to have the highest elephant population in the world.

Wildlife officials in Botswana said the 330 elephants from the Okavango Delta died after ingesting cynobacteria.

Zimbabwe is home to over 84 000 elephants, the second largest population in the world behind Botswana. Yet the country’s national parks have a carrying capacity of just 55 000.

The country’s parks-including Hwange-has of late been a target of coal mining by Chinese miners. Two firms were licenced to explore for coal in the wildlife sanctuary, in partnership with the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. But the government latter revoked the licences following a public outcry and court challenge by environmental campaigners and lawyers.

“Steps are being undertaken to immediately cancel all mining titles held in national parks,” Information and Publicity Minister Monica Mutsvangwa announced last month after a cabinet meeting.

But presidential spokesperson George Charamba, in a Tweeter rant, seemed to contradict Ms Mutsvangwa, fearing a diplomatic backlash from Beijing.

“This pseudo-scholarship which seeks the respectability of law wants to convince us some parts of Zimbabwe, or any nation on this earth for that matter, is God-designated as a Game Park, as an inviolate haven for wildlife. What frothing idiocy!!!! Hwange, then Wankie National Park was from as far back as 1928 designated a Game Park by HUMANS, not by GOD!!” said Charamba in comments directed at ZELA.

“And ofcourse when human needs come second-rate to needs of wildlife, humans will find ways – including destructive ones – to restore EQUILIBRIUM, muchida musingadi!!!! (whether you like it or not). One way of doing that is simply to remove the competitor for land, in this case WILDLIFE!!!

“SOCIETIES do determine LAND USES at every stage in the EVOLUTION of those SOCIETIES!! Some part of land goes towards agricultural uses; host water bodies, are dedicated to urban conurbation creating concrete jungles, are assigned to mining, to game, etc, etc!!!!……..GAME PARKS ARE NOT GOD-ORDAINED, although the good Lord might have created all creatures, great or small!! GAME PARKS are a creation of HUMAN POLICY INTERVENTIONS, guided by availability of land for human use and exploitation.”

China is one of the biggest investors in Zimbabwe and has close bilateral relations with Harare.

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