By James Muonwa l Mashonaland West Correspondent
NEXT year, 2025, Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) and its partners intend to reintroduce the black rhinoceros at Matusadonha National Park in an audacious exercise to conserve the endangered animal species.
The last rhino in the park was reportedly lost to poachers in 2019.
Zimbabwe holds the fourth-largest population of rhinos in Africa. The country is home to 616 black rhinos and 417 white rhinos.
The Lowveld region, which includes Malilangwe, the Bubye Valley Conservancy, the Save Valley Conservancy and the newly restocked Gonarezhou National Park, holds the majority of Zimbabwe’s rhinos.
Black rhinos remain critically endangered due to demand for horns on the illegal international market, mainly in Asia, where they are used for traditional medicine, and increasingly as a status symbol to display success and wealth. Between 2008 and 2021, around 11,000 rhinos were poached in Africa.
ZimParks director-general, Fulton Mangwanya says his organisation will embark on the ambitious rhino project to restock one of the country’s major national parks next year.
“Matusadonha National Park holds a special place in our hearts as it is preparing to reintroduce Black Rhinos by next year.
“This ambitious project aims to restore the population of these key species which has faced severe threats in recent years. Zimbabwe has a proud track record of wildlife conservation and, indeed, we have received several international accolades to this effect.”
ZimParks contends the reintroduction of the black rhinoceros, and other key species shortly, will contribute to national, regional and global targets of wildlife restoration efforts by the authority and conservation partners in the country.
Matusadonha National Park is situated in Mashonaland West province and is accessible from Karoi via Binga road. It got its name from the rolling Matuzviadonha hills that form part of the scenery tucked between Lake Kariba in the north and two perennial rivers, Ume and Sanyati.
Meanwhile, 34 wildlife rangers graduated after completing a rigorous three-month training to combat rampant poaching in the national park.
Of the graduating class, six are female while 28 are male drawn from local communities, including Kariba, Mola, Musbakaruma and Nebiri areas.
Addressing guests during a pass-out parade held at Matusadonha National Park recently, Mangwanya said graduands were frontliners in curbing poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and human-wildlife conflicts, among other ills.
“This is a remarkable group of 34 young men and women who have completed a rigorous three-month intensive training course in wildlife conservation.
“It is with great pride and admiration that we commend these wildlife rangers for making the right choices to become the frontline foot soldiers and champions in the wildlife conservation battlefield,” said Mangwanya.
The director-general underscored the importance of rangers’ work in the conservation value chain.
“Rangers have acquired knowledge and skills necessary to identify and mitigate potential threats to wildlife and combat illegal wildlife trade working with local communities to foster sustainable and effective conservation practices.
“Sometimes the wildlife rangers are unsung heroes who tirelessly patrol our forests, often in remote and challenging terrain to protect endangered species from poachers who are armed in most cases,” said Mangwanya.
He noted the partnership between ZimParks and the African Parks Network consummated four years ago was bearing fruits, one of which is the establishment of a special purpose vehicle, Matusadonha Conservation Trust (MCT), aimed at strengthening anti-poaching, sustainable fisheries and biodiversity protection and preservation.
The director-general said rangers have a crucial role to play in the success of plans to grow numbers of dwindling animal species.
Challenges faced by Matusadonha are not unique to the park alone, but to other protected areas where commercial and subsistence poaching pose a serious threat to wildlife within the park and surrounding communities, he said.
“Illegal hunting for various purposes has devastating consequences to the delicate balance of the ecosystem we seek to protect and conserve,” the ZimParks boss noted.
Traditional leader, Chief Nebiri, hailed ZimParks for recruiting natives from the local communities to be vanguards of environmental protection.
He appealed for increased numbers and presence of rangers in Matusadonha to curb wildlife poaching, particularly of the soon-to-be reintroduced black rhinoceros.
The black rhino has two horns and each weighs approximately 1,5 kilogrammes, and an average beast is worth over $130,000 to poachers.