Zimbabwe — Wild fires destroyed 22 million hectares of vegetation countrywide during the last two years and ruined timber worth $1,5 trillion last year alone.
Environment and Tourism Minister Cde Francis Nhema said over 12 percent of the national pine forests, an equivalent of three years’ harvesting, was lost to forest fires.
The minister said this in a speech read on his behalf by his deputy Cde Andrew Langa at the launch of the Mashonaland East Provincial Fire Protection Strategy and Implementation Plan at Sow Farm in Marondera last week.
Cde Nhema said uncontrolled veld fires also claimed seven lives last year. Three people have already died due to forest fires this year.
Wild fires have almost decimated wildlife at Haka Game Park near Cleveland Dam.
A variety of animal species such as eland, zebra and gemsbok have died since the beginning of the year while all kudus that used to grace the game reserve near Harare have been wiped out through poaching and related activities.
Only female elands are left in the park.
A visit to the park yesterday showed that not only was the sanctuary ravaged by uncontrolled fires, but it has also become a dangerous place, where game is under threat.
There is no electric fence to effectively protect the animals from marauding poachers, mainly from Mabvuku, Tafara, Epworth and other areas around Harare.
Massive deforestation is an eyesore and some employees of the game park sell firewood to Epworth, Mabvuku and Tafara residents. Situated around Cleveland Dam, the park is home to a variety of species including wildebeest, giraffe, impala, ostrich, eland, zebra and a wide variety of birds.
Last week the park was gutted by fire, which was only put out by Harare Fire Brigade.
A zebra could be seen yesterday having difficulties walking.
“I am not sure what could have happened to the zebra, we have no one to look after the health aspect of the animals here. The person who used to do that has since left,” one of the game wardens said.
Much of the grazing land was burnt and the bulk of the remaining animals could be seen grazing away from the area making them more vulnerable to poaching.
“We saw one carcass of a zebra in lying in a water puddle a few weeks ago. It could have been burnt,” an environmentalist from Environment Africasaid.
Although there were plans by the Harare City Council to further develop the conservation area up to an area close to Zimre Park, there were problems with ensuring the animals were safe from poachers. Only two people are assigned to patrol the vast park on foot and animal and wood poachers enter the park and sometimes get way with the offence.
Only last week, about $100 billion worth of property was destroyed by veld fires at Manzou Game Park.
Cde Nhema said as a corrective measure, his ministry, through the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), was developing standard guidelines that would be followed by communities in the management of fires each dry season.