Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), a Germany-based conservation organisation has released over $6 million towards the resuscitation of Gonarezhou National Park (GNP) to transform it into a commercially viable business.
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and FZS, signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007 that established Gonarezhou Conservation Project (GCP) as part of efforts to bring back the park to its previous glory.
Under the deal, the German organisation would release over $1 million annually to resuscitate GNP until 2020.
Speaking to journalists after touring the park on Thursday, the conservation project leader Mr Hugo van der Westhuizen said the funding of Gonarezhou National Park had no strings attached.
He said the organisation wanted to see Zimbabwe being able to manage its natural resources without external assistance in the future.
“On average, we have been funding Gonarezhou Conservation Project since the end of 2007 to the tune of $1 million per year. What we want is to see Gonarezhou being able to raise enough money to fund itself so as to motivate its workers based here. Ever since the project started, we established so many camps in the park and more people from different countries are making bookings,” he said.
Mr Westhuizen said community involvement, especially chiefs and village heads in the project, had seen improved anti-poaching programmes in an area that had seen poachers from Mozambique wiping off rhinoceros.
He said plans were afoot to reintroduce rhinoceros in the park.
Besides establishing camping sites, an electric fence around the 5 053 square kilometre-area has been erected; eight all-terrain Land Cruiser Trucks, a UD eight-tonne truck; brick making machine; tractors; motorised grader and bicycles have been bought using the funds.
He said poachers were now targeting jumbos by poisoning them with termic, a poison used by tobacco growers, which they lace on fruits favoured by the animals.
According to latest statistics at the park, 11 elephants were shot, nine poisoned by poachers, while 11 died of natural causes.
Reports also say hyenas were being poisoned as the poachers were after their skins that were used for ritual purposes in Mozambique.
“With the threat of ivory poaching ever growing and the park being particularly vulnerable through its long boundary with Mozambique and high elephant population, much attention has been focused on increasing security along this vulnerable stretch over the last two years.
“Permanent ranger pickets have been built, the border road has been cleared of vegetation to allow access to management vehicles and additional rangers recruited and trained – with the emphasis on employing staff from villages in close proximity to the Gonarezhou to ensure benefits also accrue to local communities,” said Mr Westhuizen.
The conservation project supports 39 schools in a 10 km radius of the park.
Gonarezhou National Park in south eastern lowveld is the second largest wildlife sanctuary after Hwange National Park and was established in 1975. It is part of the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park, which straddles the borders of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.