The viability of the world’s largest peace park, the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (Kaza) is under serious threat due to habitat loss and fragmentation that endangers the long-term existence of many native species.
Kaza was officially inaugurated in March 2012 at SADC’s initiative, and the transboundary conservancy straddles Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in the Kavango and Zambezi river basins.
“Peace park” is a special designation that may be applied to any of three types of transboundary conservation areas, and the territory is dedicated to promotion, celebration and/or commemoration of peace and international co-operation.
In the case of Kaza, regional leaders agreed to use their bordering conservation areas to boost both co-operation and tourism revenues.
The five KAZA partner countries agreed to drive this agenda further by approving a tourism UniVisa in 2014.
Member states agreed, among other things, to ensure the protection of: shared pristine wildlife reserves; the 15,000 square kilometre Okavango Delta, the world's largest inland delta; and the awe-inspiring cataracts of the Victoria Falls, a World Heritage Site and one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
It includes 36 proclaimed protected areas such as national parks, game reserves, forest reserves, community conservancies and game/wildlife management areas.
But the sustainability of the massive facility – roughly the size of Germany and Belgium combined – has been brought to question following the demise early this month of large numbers of elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana, which has been partly ascribed to indiscriminate human activities.
Botswana has recorded over 400 jumbo deaths over the past month while Zimbabwe lost 22 elephants in the Pandamasue Forest on the outskirts of the important Hwange National Park near the border with Botswana.
In both cases, poaching has been ruled out since the elephant carcasses were found with their tusks intact.
Poisoning was also ruled out as there were no casualties from scavengers like vultures and hyenas feeding on the carcasses.
Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) spokesperson Tinashe Farawo also said preliminary results of an investigation indicated that the jumbos may have succumbed to a bacterial infection, or they may have eaten poisonous flora as the tree species they ordinarily feed on continue to diminish.
“There has been a massive loss of habitation in these areas and hence, fierce completion for food and water. An analysis of the elephants that have died on both sides shows that mostly, they are your baby elephants which can barely distinguish between edible and poisonous plants and cannot reach out for the remaining larger trees unlike the adults,” he said.
Last week, authorities in Zimbabwe moved to cancel mining licenses in Hwange National Park after activities by Chinese mining company, Zhongxin Mining Group Tongmao Coal Company (Pvt) there triggered a global outcry.
The Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRG), a Zimbabwean-based lobby group applauded Harare for making the decision saying it will help solve the impending calamity.
“Mining within National Parks is detrimental to wildlife conservation and poses an ecological disaster which was going to obliterate tourism. We consider the ban a step in the right direction. Hwange National Park is a unique and and important enclave in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.”
The group points out that the park is home to more than 45,000 elephants and the other fauna collectively known as the Big Five which are a major draw for tourists.
“Mining activities within Hwange National Park (specifically the Sinamatela area) were going to have an inevitable impact on the Hwange-Chobe-Kazuma Wildlife Dispersal Area.
“Sinamatela is at the heart of the wildlife dispersal area linking Hwange (Zimbabwe) and Chobe National Park (Botswana) where stakeholders are implementing cross border conservation programmes with four other countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. “It must be stressed that no tourist would visit the area to check on the production capacity of a mine but they are attracted by wildlife. Moreover, communities sharing borders with conservation areas are already bearing the brunt of human-wildlife conflict as animals move away from the parks due to a number of human factors,” the organisation said this week.
Habitat loss – due to destruction, fragmentation, or degradation of habitat – is the primary threat to the survival of wildlife.
When an ecosystem has been dramatically changed by human activities such as mining, agriculture, oil and gas exploration or any other commercial development, it may no longer be able to provide the food, water, cover, and places to raise young that wildlife need to survive.