BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
Gonarezhou National Park is set to reintroduce over 20 rhinoceros into the vast wildlife conservancy next year, after the last of the 200 rhinos that were kept in the park were gunned down by poachers more than 30 years ago.
Director of the Gonarezhou Conservation Partnership, Hugo van der Westhuizen, confirmed the development at the weekend.
Gonarezhou Conservation Partnership is a partnership between the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FSZ).
Hugo told Southern Eye that Gonarezhou was now a safe haven for rhinos after a vast improvement on the park, which included the recruitment of well-trained guards from a miserly 23 in the 1980s to about 250 presently, communication and the acquisition of over 30 surveillance trucks.
“We are likely to acquire more than 20 rhinos next year from Malilangwe Trust, Bubi or Save Conservancy. We have well-trained armed guards, mostly from Shangani communities around the park with modern day communication systems as well as an efficient fleet of trucks,” he said.
“We have over 11 000 elephants in Gonarezhou, according to the 2011 census. Very few elephants were shot dead by poachers since then. We had another census this year, but we haven’t finalised on the actual figures. But we assume that the figure has risen drastically.
“The park is constantly engaging with the Shangani community which is now providing us with manpower, so the issue of subsistence poaching is dropping to manageable levels. We are also expecting to deal with commercial poaching,” Hugo said.
He added that they were also implementing various projects to improve the livelihoods of surrounding communities, which he said were marginalised and poor.
Zanu PF Chiredzi South legislator Kalisto Gwanetsa welcomed efforts by Gonarezhou to engage the locals and encouraged them to work with the park as well as live in harmony with nature.
“I am so happy about the efforts being made by Gonarezhou and I would like them (locals) to embrace developmental projects,” Gwanetsa said.
Headman Masimavele said the projects were helping locals in various ways.
Jocylene Mukungulushi, one of the women who benefitted from projects implemented by Gonarezhou, said: “My husband passed away 10 years ago and I was left to look after my four children on my own. I am happy now I can manage to send them to school, buying uniforms and paying school fees for them.”