Five southern African countries have agreed to establish a second transfrontier wildlife park, a development that will boost regional tourism and conservation efforts and facilitate cross-border travel.
Tourism and environmental ministers from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia converge on the resort town of Victoria Falls on Thursday to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the establishment of the second transfrontier park mainly along the Zambezi River, which straddles all five countries.
Wildlife populated conservation areas like the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Caprivi in Namibia and the adjoining area in Angola, the Kafue Wetlands in Zambia and the Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia would form part of the new transfrontier park.
Zimbabwe's Tourism and Environment Minister Francis Nhema said the project would cover an estimated 30 000 square kilometres of such diverse ecosystems as the savanna, woodlands, rivers and wetlands in the countries concerned.
About 36 national parks and game reserves in the five countries could become part of the new transfrontier park.
Under the agreement visa requirements will be scrapped by September 2008 for international and domestic tourists wishing to visit the transfrontier park in all the five countries.
The agreement also envisages a secretariat that would be managed on a rotational basis by the five governments.
The project becomes the second transfrontier project after the establishment in 2004 of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park by Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique, incorporating the Kruger National park, Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou Park and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
At 35 000 square kilometres, the Limpopo Transfrontier Park remains the largest and is already partly operational between South Africa and Mozambique. The fence on the Zimbabwean side is yet to be fully removed.
Zimbabwe has faced accusations of destroying its wildlife heritage due to rampant poaching by established game hunters with connections to the ruling party and by ruling party militants who invaded some national parks at the height of white land seizures in 2000/2003. However, Zimbabwe still remains home to sizeable numbers of wildlife with abundant elephant and other species.
Nhema said the new transfrontier project would make it much easier to manage regional ecology and to achieve regional integration in such areas as law enforcement and wildlife crime prevention and fire management.
Collaborative management planning towards harmonised land use, including a joint inventory of resources, monitoring and research will also be considerably strengthened, Nhema said.
Since his appointment to cabinet in 2002, Nhema has tried to stop the decimation of Zimbabwe's wildlife. But the jury is still out with conservation bodies such as the Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe, which alleges that animals continue to be slaughtered by government supporters.
Nhema believes that the choice of Zimbabwe as the venue of signing the latest important agreement is a vote of confidence in its wildlife management and conservation policies. - Independent Foreign Service