Following the closure of Virunga national park for Congo gorilla safaris and Mt Nyiragongo hiking tours, Congo is in pending deals to donate mountain gorillas to Zimbabwe. The gorilla transfer idea was introduced in September 2018 when Zimbabwe parks and Wildlife management Authority (Zimparks) disclosed that Zimbabwe would soon receive a donation of mountain gorillas from Democratic Republic of Congo. Besides, mountain gorillas, DR Congo will donate Okapis (Okapia Johnston) an endangered species also known as forest life. In exchange, Zimbabwe will donate 10 Rhinos to Democratic Republic of Congo to increase the population of these endangered species (Rhinos) in Congo. To Zimbabwe, the receiving of gorillas and Okapis is a great achievement, which calls for a celebration in the country’s tourism and conservation fraternity. Also, the translocation will help to boost Zimbabwe’s tourism and bring diversity to the country’s wildlife. In contrary Zimbabwe local residents and primate experts are opposed to this translocation. The two parties have raised concerns regarding the translocation, which require hearing. These include among others:
Where will the mountain gorillas live in Zimbabwe?
According to the plans, Nyanga region in the highlands of eastern Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province has been chosen as a possible habit for the trans located mountain gorillas and Okapis. Nyanga regions are preferred for their cool temperatures and lush vegetation nourished by several rivers and streams that flow through the area. However to Mike Hitschman a wildlife expert with the Cecil Kop Nature reserve in Manicaland, Nyanga region is not suitable for the habitation of gorillas and Okapis. Nyanga region is presently a home for zebras, waterbucks, impalas, blue duikers and elands among others. On looking at their lifestyle, mountain gorillas and Okapis live safely in specific niches with tropical climates, which is not the case with Nyanga region. The only viable option in Manicaland for gorillas and Okapis is a 15-square kilometers (5.8-square-mile) wildlife park in Mutare about 100 kilometers (60 miles) South of Nyanga. However, no acceptance has been received from this area regarding the subject.
According to Liz Green grass, the head of conservation at animal welfare NGO born free, Zimbabwe is naturally un suitable for equatorial species like mountain gorillas. The exchange of wild animals is a disruption to the endangered species, which deny them a right to live in their comfortable natural habitats. To Liz, the translocation of mountain gorillas is not only risky for the gorillas but also for the population at large setting a dangerous precedent that goes against any international conservation commitment these countries have made. The transfer of these endangered species is not a conservation initiative.
Local people are not happy with this program claiming that the introduction of mountain gorillas and okapis in the area is not only risky for gorillas but not good for the people as well. Local people further say that there was no need of bringing the endangered gorillas into their region basing on many reasons. First of all, the transfer of rhinos in exchange with mountain gorillas is an economical draw back to the area. Rhinos are economically valuable to the community compared to gorillas. More still, the transfer of gorillas is very expensive which will pull out a large amount of money from the strained country’s national budget. This will negatively affect locale people who will be bear the burden of covering up the unnecessary costs. Also, local people are scared that the endangered mountain gorillas may bring deadly diseases especially Ebola from Congo. In the recent years, Ebola epidemic that can spread from humans to apes hit Congo. Some mountain gorillas are therefore suspected to be infected with Ebola, which may be dangerous to the local people of Nyanga region. Also, local people are scared that the dilapidated health sector in Zimbabwe cannot manage to handle the deadly Ebola. In response, the chief of Zimparks “Mangwanya” assured local people that mountain gorillas will be first tested before they are transferred to make sure all transferred gorillas are Ebola free.
Local people are also concerned about the impact of mountain gorillas on the local ecosystem. They wonder whether gorillas will be held captive or allowed to move freely since they cannot live in one place. Mountain gorillas are wondering animals, which keep moving from one place to another in search of fresh foods. Local people are therefore concerned that gorillas will wonder in big land area hence limiting settlement and agriculture land for local people. are allowed to move freely, local people wonder how big land areas are required to accommodate mountain gorillas. Its obvious that the population of mountain gorillas will increase in future requiring extended land which is not available even for the local people. Concerning their diet, mountain gorillas are herbivorous animals, which feed on vegetation. 90% of gorillas’ food comprises of wild fruits, roots, pulps, flowers and tree barks. A male adult gorilla eats up to 18 kilograms of vegetation per day, which will have a big impact on the forests. The heavy consumption of vegetation will negatively impact trees in the area most of which cannot survive for long if their back is removed.
Fears of China connection
There are fears that China could have a hand in the translocation of mountain gorillas to Zimbabwe. In history, Zimparks is known for sending wildlife especially elephants to china for display in zoo’s and national parks. The long known deals between China and Zimbabwe have therefore raised concerns whether the yet to be trans located gorillas will end up in Zimbabwe or China.
People complain that the official of Zimbabwe Ministry of Environment have consistently been making bad decisions regarding the management of wildlife for some reasons best known to themselves without involving local people.
Expected benefits from mountain gorillas
Just like in other countries with mountain gorillas, Zimbabwe expects a lot f of positive benefits from gorilla tourism in their country. An encounter with mountain gorillas is a dream for most travelers from all over the world. Many visitors are therefore expected to visit Zimbabwe for this lifetime experience. Gorilla tours are the most sold packages in Uganda at $600 for a single permit and in Rwanda at $1500 for a permit which money helps to increase the gross domestic products for these respective countries.
The translocation of mountain gorillas and okapis from Virunga national park to Zimbabwe is still underway. Discussions on how to go about it without any negative impacts are being discussed. Will keep you updated.