By Sifelani Tsiko, The Herald
The novel coronavirus pandemic has hit hardest all wildlife conservation efforts by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) as its main lifeline earnings from foreign tourism have dwindled to critical levels.
Zimparks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo told the Herald recently that lack of tourism revenues had badly affected his organisation to an extent that the authority would soon fail to pay its more than 2000 workers and meet other financial obligations.
“The situation is bad and very soon we will not be able to pay our rangers,” he said. “Tourism is dead for now and we are appealing to the Government to allow us to open our parks and other income generating activities.
“Zimparks relies heavily from tourism earnings for its operational activities. Wildlife tourism plays a critical role in our foreign currency generation through game viewing and licensed hunting. We also use the proceeds to respond to human wildlife conflicts.”
Tourism in Zimbabwe and most other African countries has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns with hotel bookings canceled, safaris postponed and cultural tours stopped.
“Zimparks revenues have fallen drastically – by up to nearly 100 percent,” Farawo said.
“We are struggling to stay afloat and want the Government to allow us to open tourism activities to enable us to pay rangers and meet our mandate. Between January and June this year, we received 973 cases of human wildlife conflict cases and we only managed to respond to only half of the cases.
“We need money to pay rangers allowances, we need money for fuel and patrols. The situation is dire and if we don’t pay rangers and support their operations, this might pose serious problems for the country’s wildlife conservation efforts.”
The Victoria Falls, the country’s premier resort spot, national parks and other recreation sites under Zimparks have closed down as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak which has killed more than 477,000 people out of the over 9,2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus across the world.
Several safari operators have shut down their operations while local communities living close to the conservation areas have also been affected.
Lockdowns have piled financial pressures and strain to tourism operators and communities that depend on wildlife tourism.
“We are appealing to all other stakeholders for support,” Farawo said. “We need help and we appreciate all the assistance we are getting from our partners. It’s not enough and we need help to fill in all the critical gaps.”
Zimparks requires between US$20 million and US$25 million a year to fund its wildlife conservation activities.
“We are in the midst of the hunting season and our revenue is zero due to the Covid – 19 lockdowns. The impact has been severe and more than 40 people have been killed by wild animals while 38 others were wounded,” said Farawo.
“Elephants, crocodiles, lions and buffaloes are still a major problems and we are incapacitated to respond effectively whenever we receive distress calls from local communities living close to wildlife conservation areas.”
The tourism sector in Zimbabwe and most other African countries have suffered badly due to the Covid -19 outbreak.
It is estimated that more than 70 million tourists visited Africa last year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization to enjoy safari tours, game drives and trophy hunting.
But with airports and borders now closed, most of this income has been lost. Fears abound that the loss of revenue will increase poaching activities as impoverished families search for food to survive and game patrols weaken.
Zimparks does not receive government funding and it largely depends on tourism revenue to run their operations and care for the animals and plants in protected areas.“Without money we cannot do frequent patrols as we need fuel for rangers. We need food and allowances for rangers to go on patrol,” said Farawo.
“Zimparks needs to patrol about 13 percent of this country to protect our wildlife and ensure the survival of the tourism sector. The Hwange National Park is almost the size of Belgium and we need resources to patrol and protect our wildlife.”