ANCIENT Bushman art peels off rock surfaces and endangered rhinos wander through derelict fences as neglect threatens to rob Zimbabweâ€™s Matopos game park of its world heritage status.
Shillah Nyakudzi, wildlife manager of the Unesco site, cannot suppress her dejection as she points out a gap in the boundary fence between the Matopos National Park and a neighbouring village.
â€œNot only is the boundary fence being stolen, but also ancient paintings are not spared either by lack of care and maintenance,â€ Nyakudzi, area manager for the 435 square kilometre park, said.]
â€œMatopos has now become porous as people are stealing the fence which is supposed to provide a boundary.â€
The mystical Matopos Hills is a revered site where the Shona and Ndebele, Zimbabweâ€™s two main ethnic groups, have long held religious rituals amid imposing ancient granite rock formations.
The San Bushmen also found their home among the precariously balancing boulders and lifelike rock formations weathered by two billion years of erosion, leaving some of the best rock art in Africa.
Zimbabweâ€™s famous settler leader Cecil John Rhodes chose the silent grandeur of the park as his final resting place.
It is rhino country, home to the endangered black and white rhino, while some 200 rare black eagles make their home in the craggy rock outcrops.
However, government neglect due to an ongoing economic and political crisis, community and cattle encroachment, staff shortages, dwindling tourist numbers and a lack of funds have hamstrung the national park.
â€œThe rock paintings are fast deteriorating, they are peeling off. There is need to preserve these, otherwise we will lose that world heritage status,â€ said Nyakudzi.
Bits of fence are stolen for scrap metal, and cattle from neighbouring villages have wandered into the park for grazing.
Nyakudzi said some rhinos â€œstrayed 25 kilometres after finding their way out through the broken fenceâ€.
â€œLast year we lost one black rhino outside the park while two died inside the park because of the fencing problem,â€ the parks manager said.
A new security fence around Matopos â€” home to 17 black rhinos and 45 white â€” will cost US$8 million, she says, bemoaning the lack of funding from both Unesco and other aid organisations.
â€œAlthough we were listed as a Unesco heritage site in 2003 there is nothing we are getting from Unesco,â€ Nyakudzi said.
The area, listed as an intensified protection zone, has only 32 game rangers, less than half the number needed.
â€œIn a proper environment, a ranger must cover one to 10 kilometres yet right now a ranger is covering 32 kilometres.â€
The creation of a government of national unity between long-time President Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai has instilled hope that the countryâ€™s wildlife conservation will get some much-needed attention.
â€œNow that things have changed politically, I think that things will improve,â€ said Nyakudzi.
Environment minister Francis Nhema said the government planned to raise money to repair the vandalised fence.
â€œWe are trying to address the problem of fencing,â€ Nhema told AFP.
â€œThe major problem we have is that locals always want to herd their animals inside the park as they are saying they have run out of grazing land.â€
â€œWe just have to raise monies on our own, because organisations like Unesco are just voluntary organisations, they just provide funds when they have some.â€
He said the shortage was being addressed, adding that government had ordered that people who had abandoned their parks jobs due to low pay be re-employed provided they do not have any criminal record. â€” AFP.