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SOS Rhino : In the News : No animals killed by bush fires, says Parks

No animals killed by bush fires, says Parks

  By Wisdom Mdzungairi
The Herald online
Tuesday, 14 October 2003

NO animals died when bush fires ravaged Matobo National Park last week, senior Parks and Wildlife Management officials have said.

Although mystery still surrounds the source of the fire, initial investigations have revealed that 6 500 hectares of the vast 45 400 hectare-game sanctuary were destroyed by the inferno.

There were however, suspicions of arson perpetrated by some people bent on tarnishing the image of the park management.

However, it was suspected that the fire could have been caused by smokers as it started along the tourist path within the national park, which is home to the endangered black rhino.

Matopo is one of ZimbabweÍs top wildlife sanctuaries and is an internationally designated cultural heritage site.

It is also one of ZimbabweÍs four Intensive Protection Zones for the endangered rhinoceros populations.

The other IPZ are Chipinge, Matusadonha National Park and Sinamatella in ZimbabweÍs flagship game sanctuary.

Dr Morris Mtsambiwa, the parks director general said the area destroyed by the fire constituted 15 percent of the total land area of the park.

Dr Mtsambiwa said that there was ample grazing left in the park.

"It is not correct that elephants and lions were among the affected animals. We solicited assistance from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the police and other stakeholders, who all kindly came to our assistance for which we are profoundly grateful.

"The animals from the central part of the park have since moved to unaffected areas. A similar fire occurred in 2001 and this covered about 33 percent of the park and even then there was no need for supplementary feeding," he said.

The initial assessment of the damage caused by the fire was carried by Dr Mtsambiwa and acting deputy director (management and conservation) Mr Lovemore Mungwashu.

Also undertaking an independent assessment was Mr Vivian Wilson of Chipangali Wildlife Orphanage, who is also carrying out a study on leopards and cheetah in the park.

Dr Mtsambiwa said that the fire did not damage any of the park infrastructure such as buildings, chalets, lodges and other tourist infrastructure.

It did not also destroy any of the monuments found in the park.

The authority last week reportedly recalled from leave Dr Felix, a senior ecologist at the Hwange Main Camp to address an emergency arising from the fire damage.

The investigating team was tasked with the responsibility of examining and reporting on the circumstances and ecological impacts of the fire outbreak in the park.

Dr Murindagomo led a team tasked with investigating the sequence of events at the park. The authority was criticised for allegedly failing to have a fire management plan.

There were also indications that the parks authority did not have an emergency preparedness plan resulting in the staff at Matobo failing to handle the fire outbreak.

The fire outbreak was the second time in three years at the Matobo National Park.

The park near Bulawayo is famous for its unusual hard-rock hill formations, ancient rock paintings and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes who led Britain's colonisation of Zimbabwe in the 1890s.

It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2001, making it internationally protected.

Dr Mtsambiwa, who indicated that there was no need to translocate game to safer areas, said the wild fire was fanned by summer winds such that it was difficult to contain the fires, as the flames were capable of leaping across fireguards.