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Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Cyanide Poison Dents Tourist Arrivals

Cyanide Poison Dents Tourist Arrivals

Shame Makoshori 5 Feb 2015

Dead elephantsTHE poisoning of large numbers of elephants in Hwange National Park in 2013 has affected tourist arrivals into the country’s largest wildlife estate. A senior tourism executive said last week that Hwange Safari Lodge was among destinations significantly affected by the mindless slaughter of game in the expansive estate, noting, however, that it remained one of the region’s best resorts. African Sun Limited (ASL) chief execuctive officer, Shingi Munyeza, told analysts that potential tourists who are sensitive to animal rights had started skirting Hwange National Park, where poachers polluted water sources with the deadly industrial chemical, cyanide, and killed over 300 jumbos two years ago.He said Hwange Safari Lodge continued to be affected by logistical difficulties to the property, where scheduled flights were halted over a decade ago by Air Zimbabwe following a plunge
in arrivals that made it uneconomic to continue operations. However, in August last year, Air Zimbabwe announced it would reopen flights in a number of destinations, including Hwange, in the coming months. The death of the jumbos exposed the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority’s incapacity to administer the vast conservancy. High profile delegations trooped into the national park after the slaughters, leading to the arrest and prosecution of villagers living close to the park. But authorities are still battling to arrest the wanton killing of wildlife, which is now threatening many types of game with extinction.

Munyeza’s Hwange Safari Lodge appeared to have benefitted from the spread of ASL’s global sphere of influence, which has been bolstered by an electronic booking system that has made it cost effective and easier for tourists to make payments. Scores of the country’s hospitality players have also established online bookings to capture tourists in markets where they used to rely on intermediaries.

“Hwange has been affected by access issues into that market,” Munyeza told analysts at a briefing for the full-year to September 30, 2014 in Harare. “One of the issues we had was that a whole lot of elephants were killed in Hwange,” he said.

“That sort of affected travellers who are sensitive to animals,” he said.

Arrivals into ASL’s properties during the period were driven by the American market, the Japanese market and significant volumes from South Korea. Many European markets, especially France, were affected by the Ebola virus, which has been rocking west Africa.

“In 2015 ASL will attend major French shows. Africa has been affected by growth in the South African markets,” he said.
The South African market constituted the bulk of arrivals from Africa. But in the past year, the South African rand has been losing traction against the US dollar, the dominant currency in Zimbabwe. This has left Zimbabwe a more expensive destination for South African tourists. Hwange Safari Lodge remains one of the best resorts in this market despite its handicaps and tourists who brave the long journey to the park North West of Zimbabwe are likely to agree. During my visit to the resort in December, an African Sun Limited trophy at Hwange Safari Lodge’s front office said it all. It described the facility as the most improved within the listed leisure group in 2013. And the personal attention to tourists arriving there was testimony of a coordinated national effort to rebuild a shattered industry.

Cheetahs had cornered an impala close to the lodge in full view of tourists on the day I arrived. Exhausted after battling for long to save its life from the big cats, the impala gave in and its neck was quickly shredded, and its belly ripped wide open. Then a combined force of vultures, marabou storks, hyenas, jackals and cheetahs camped on the spot for an early Christmas party. I missed the moving action by a few minutes. Early next morning, we took off to explore the national park, a frustrating adventure when we came up close with many types of game, but struggled to see the Big Five. I was excited at the privilege of navigating through the vast forests and rolling landscapes.

Everywhere, its clusters of deciduous trees stretched out, later uniting yonder to form a false delimitation between earth and the sky, which could only mark how far the eye could see.
Deeper into virgin jungles, we dodged beautiful outcrops of imposing savanna woodlands. Then finally, Grrrrr! Grrrrr! Grrrrr! Just in front of us, deeper in the interwoven thickets, jumbos jolted us! “There are the elephants,” the guide said.

Their imposing postures sent shivers through my heart. But Hwange National Park’s elephants are as friendly as super models.
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