Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter

MATOPO National Park has recorded major success in reducing veld fires with three cases recorded so far against 12 incidents that were recorded in the same period last year.

From July to September this year less than 500 hectares of land was destroyed by fires against 28000 ha that was lost last year.

Most veld fires at the national park are reportedly caused by community beehive smokers, who illegally set up fires to harvest honey before leaving them unextinguished.

The Environment Management Agency (EMA) last year raised alarm over uncontrolled fires at the park before engaging various players including Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks), Matobo Rural District Council and the local community to fight the spread of veld fires.

EMA recently conducted a media tour at the park to show the success recorded in containing veld fires at the Matopo National Park.

Community engagement was cited as one of the major reasons that led to the decline in veld fires while Zimparks intensified on creating fireguards and provided fire beaters for the surrounding communities.

EMA Matabeleland South provincial public relations officer Mr Simon Musasiwa said the community was made to understand how veld fires were not just affecting the park but had impact on their livelihoods.

He said Zimparks started an initiative support community beehive keeping to address the illegal harvesting of honey at the park while also allowing communities to directly benefit from resources at the national park.

“Areas near the borderline of the park are the hotspots of veld fires as communities used to sneak into the park to harvest honey. They would set up fires which upon completion of their illegal activities, was left and extensively damage the environment. But we are happy that some of the measures that we implemented have reduced the fire incidences. The community was made to understand that if they do not protect the environment they will also be affected by the negative impact to the environment,” he said.

Mr Musasiwa said cattle from nearby communities were also straying into the park which remains a problem that needs to be addressed as this could expose their animals to various diseases.

 “Zimparks also tells us that having cattle at the park is not good for business as tourists will be expecting to find wild animals yet they end finding cattle. The cattle also chase away animals as some of them will be having bells which scare away animals. These are some of the issues that we are still engaging the community on as we try to find lasting solutions to benefit both the community and Zimparks while protecting the environment as well,” said Mr Musasiwa.

The news crew was shown some of the cattle that were grazing at the national park while animals such as Impalas would be grazing on the other side.

He said as part of improving community relations Zimparks was allowing communities to cut thatch grass while it donated hay bales worth US$1000 each to communities living near the park.

A village head at the nearby Silozwi village Mr Edward Mabhena, commended the improved relations between Zimparks and villagers.

“Right now, Zimparks has donated stock feed equivalent to US$1000 and as a community we realised that it might not be adequate for the whole community to benefit from even though our cattle might need it. But we are working on clinic constructing project so we have resolved to sell the 500 hay bales donated to us with each one going to US$2. The money will get, will be used to contribute towards that project,” said Mr Mabhena.

He said they were also allowed to fetch firewood especially on important events which has curbed incidents of firewood poaching.

Mr Mabhena said through sensitisation programmes authorities’ villagers have an appreciation of the need to conserve the environment.

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