REVELATIONS that Ntombi, a supposedly prominent female black rhino, was shot and killed a fortnight ago in the Matobo National Park outside Bulawayo leaving behind a 13-month old calf came as great surprise to many Zimbabweans.
By Wongai Zhangazha
The surprise though, was not that Ntombi was killed, but rather that they were unaware there was such a popular black rhino in Zimbabwe just like Cecil the lion.
Reports from international news agencies reveal that Ntombi was an Animal Planet star.
She rose to prominence after featuring in a wildlife television series on Animal Planet show, “Karina: Wild on Safari” between 2011 and 2012. She was therefore well known by animal lovers worldwide, hence the wide coverage she received following her tragic shooting.
In addition, Ntombi was part of a ground-breaking genome sequencing project by scientists in America that seeks to save the endangered species of rhino.
Matobo National Park, a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) world heritage site, has one of the largest concentrations of black and white rhinoceroses and an intensive breeding programme.
While many animal lovers were infuriated that Ntombi had been killed, their anger was aggravated by the fact that she endured a painful death. Ntombi was put to sleep by officials from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority after efforts to save her proved fruitless. She had AK bullet heads in three of her legs and a bullet wound in her right shoulder.
Veterinarians from animal conservation group Aware Trust carried out an X-ray that showed Ntombi had “endured unimaginable pain caused by broken legs and open wounds”.
“The animal was very immobile and was unable to walk to access food and water. She had a front broken leg that she was unable to bear weight on,” Aware Trust said in a statement.
It was another sad ending to the life of a Zimbabwean animal.
Ironically, however, most Zimbabweans were not aware of Ntombi’s existence and only knew of her after the tragic shooting.
Her story reminded many of the “celebrity lion” Cecil, a black maned animal which was shot and killed with an arrow by an American recreation hunter in July last year.
The collared Cecil, was the best-known animal in the giant Hwange National Park, and a major tourist attraction. He was being studied by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University as part of a scientific project that had run since 1999.
Ntombi and Cecil’s case is similar to that of a rare, famous elephant shot and killed in Gonarezhou National Park in October last year. The elephant, which attracted international headlines, had “majestic tusks” weighing 55 kilograms.
That most Zimbabweans only got to know about Ntombi and Cecil after their demise reflects the general lack of information ordinary people have about the country’s attractions. The ignorance is not only on the country’s wildlife but also extends to Zimbabwe’s heritage, monuments and natural wonders, as studies have shown.
A United Nations World Tourism Organisation Barometer (2010) indicates that Zimbabweans are not familiar with their rich and unique tourist attractions. While the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) may have magazines and information it distributes to promote tourism, not enough is being done to promote domestic tourism.
The high costs associated with travel, accommodation and meals at resort facilities are the major reason Zimbabweans fail to enjoy their natural attractions.
Although the ZTA 2015 First Quarter Tourism Performance Overview shows that the domestic market is dominant in accommodation utilisation, statistics reveal that this is attributable to seminars and conferences held by various organisations, including companies, churches and the civil society.
In his 2015 monetary policy statement, Reserve Bank Governor John Mangudya said locals were failing to visit tourist facilities in Zimbabwe due to high prices in the tourism industry. Mangudya suggested that tourist facilities should re-introduce the two tier pricing system to promote domestic tourism.
In June 2014, President Robert Mugabe called for the promotion of domestic tourism arguing most Zimbabweans lacked knowledge about the many historical monuments and treasures in the country.
He tasked the tourism minister to come up with deliberate programmes to encourage locals to visit places of interest.
Mugabe said: “There are times when I tend to think that Zimbabweans do not really know their country and its intrinsic value and worth, besides, of course, its mineral endowments, such as a gold and diamonds, which everyone knows about. Perhaps the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality (Industry) should launch a ‘Know-your-Zimbabwe’ campaign to facilitate visits to and knowledge of our country’s notable sights.”
After Mugabe’s call, ZTA chief operating officer Givemore Chidzidzi announced his association had embarked on a ‘Know Your Zimbabwe” campaign to improve domestic tourism.
Little has come out of the campaign.
A senior ZTA official who preferred anonymity said it was not ZTA’s mandate to make animals known to Zimbabweans as it was the duty of national parks officials.
“There is no formality or registration of the wild animals. It is actually individualised, most of the times the names of the animals are local given either by villagers or rangers who work in the parks for example there was Maswerasei, the lion who caused havoc in Hurungwe towards sunset in the 80’s. We don’t know these animals until something happens or they die, for us it will be just another statistic of an animal that has died,” he said.
“There is nothing that ZTA would be told about the animals. What would be however helpful is to promote tourism as a partnership with parks where we get to know certain individual wild animals in different resort areas. Then our duty as ZTA will be to market that place using the animals. We can say for example: ‘Don’t leave Hwange National Park without seeing Jericho the lion, famous for this and that’.”
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force chairperson Johnny Rodrigues said there was lack of will by government to promote domestic tourism.
“It’s usually the people who live with the animals that name them. They get used to seeing the animals and their uniqueness and they name them. For instance, in the Zambezi we have Oliver the elephant,” he said. “The biggest problem is that there is no will from the responsible authorities. With all these animals we could take advantage of that and use them to market our country. Tourists love these animals and they will always remember them.”