Approximately 7,000 kilometres away in the City of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the world is gathered for the COP27 climate conference to take action towards achieving the world’s collective climate goals in the midst of raging global warming and climate change induced catastrophes. The conference kicked off on November 6 ending November 18.
By Michael Gwarisa
Back home in Zimbabwe, the effects of Climate Change can already be felt in the Mana Pools National Park, one of the country’s leading tourist attractions and home to 350 bird species and large mammals. During the drought of 2019 that affected mainly national parks and wildlife conservancies and water bodies in Zimbabwe, three pools in the National park dried up.
The name Mana Pools was derived from the Shona word “Mana) which means “Four” in reference to the park’s four large pools that are relics of ancient ox-bow lakes carved out by the mighty Zambezi when it changed its course back in the day. Since 1963, Mana Pools has been a protected area known for its four pools namely Green, Chine, Chisasiko and the Long pool which is 7 kilometres.
Drying up of Chine Pool
However, since 2019, Chine Pool has been struggling to hold water throughout the year largely due to siltation as a result of land degradation. With one pool on the brink of extinction and some already showing signs of siltation and sand filling, the natural habitat and the benefits it brings to the motherland could soon be a long forgotten memory. The United Nations forecast has predicted a loss of 75 percent of available water per local inhabitant. Related land erosion, crop loss and lack of electricity are also likely to have a dramatic impact on the millions of people living in Africa who rely on the river for survival.
Since 2019 because of the effects of climate change due to global warming, that is when this pool, Chine Pool dried up together with Green Pool and the Long Pool,” said Mr Edmore Ngosi, the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife (Zimparks) Area Manager for Mana Pools.
He bemoaned the continued siltation of water bodies in the flood plain that houses the four pools. Mana Pools is a flood plain and whenever it’s flooded, the four pools fill up and so does the entire channel. The four pools used to be perennial and could hold water throughout the year, however that has since changed.
“Siltation is taking place, there is a lot of erosion that is taking place as evidenced by the Gullies. There is a lot of erosion that is taking place in the catchment area and this has resulted in the siltation of the pool and in the process resulting in the low water levels. Once we start receiving rains, the pool will fill up but around mid-August it loses its water.”
Slow Dying and Disappearance of the Baobab Specie
The Baobab specie is slowly dying with no signs of succession or growth of new Baobab trees in place. This according to the Zimparks is obtaining in almost all National parks where the Baobab tree is endemic. One of the leading drivers of the demise of the Baobab trees in Zimbabwe’s national parks is growing population of Elephants. Zimbabwe has some some 100,000 elephants, the world’s second-largest population after Botswana, and about one-quarter of the elephants in all of Africa. Mana Pools contributes a bigger chuck to this number.
“One challenge we are also having is on our Baobab tree. We are losing the Baobab tree. This tree was lively until 2020, that is when we lost it and it was also one of biggest attractions here as tourists used to go there. Inside that Baobab tree there is a big hole and tourists would take pictures form there. This is the challenge throughout the country and there is no succession, there is no new growth of Baobab trees coming. In other areas, we are actually trying to protect the species because the effects also include our growing population of Elephants. The new shoots will not grow as they are destroyed or eaten by the elephants.”
In areas such as Gonarezhou National Park, the Zimparks has started some projects to protect the Baobab trees including protecting the new plants to ensure continuity of the renowned tree.
Invasive tree specie destroying grass cover
According the Zimparks, the Mana Pools is now under invasion from an Invasive tree called the Croton tree which is slowly becoming dominant in some parts of the park closer to the Zambezi River. Back in the day, the Black Rhino used to feed on the tree and that to a greater extent controlled the rate at which it multiplied across the park. However, due to excessive poaching of the Black Rhino, the Zimparks had to move the Rhinos to a safe habitat. This has given the Croton tree room to invade the park with little or no disturbance as very few animals feed on it.
Extreme Weather conditions
Mana Pools National Park also had all the bridges linking it to the outside world being washed away during the 2021 excessive flooding.
Olivia Mufute, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) Country Director told HealthTimes in an interview that there was need to come up with long term Climate Change mitigation measures in the country’s National Parks.
[pullquote]“It is very unfortunate that Climate Change is having such as devastating impact in Mana Pools. Mana Pools being such an iconic world heritage site where for history and or long time, some of the pools never used to be dry up but we have witnessed for the first time Chine Pool which has been dry for a couple of years now.[/pullquote]
“What this means is that we will continue witnessing further drying up of the park. Even last year we witnessed all the bridges that are linking Mana Pools with the main road having been washed away. That was excessive flooding. It is quite unfortunate but we need to do now is to think outside the box, Zimparks need to come up with certain ways and measures to try and look for mitigation measures because we are also witnessing severe erosion by the rivers and if gone unchecked, it’s going to impact some of the camps across the river,” said Mufute.
She says there is need to look holistically on what kind of land use planning can be applied given the prevailing climate change scenario.
What Climate Change Expert Has to say
Meanwhile, Natural Resources Governance and Climate Change expert, Tapuwa O’ bren Nhachi said while wildlife also contributes to the soil degradation and siltation in the national parks, human activities have played a major role in the degradation of natural habitats.
"Impacts associated with Climate change have changed the landscape in most of Zimbabwe national parks and game reserves. Scarcity of food, water and natural hazards in the like of tropical cyclone idai that also affected Chimanimani National Parks
“However, it should be noted that climate change impacts have also been aided by human activities such as mining within habitats as has been witnessed in the Hwange National Park and Chimanimani National Parks. So climate change and extractive projects in these protected wildlife sanctuaries have been detrimental to a huge extent. This has also led to serious Human- Wildlife Conflict as fierce competition for land, water, food emerges ermeges. It’s a vicious cycle as increase in human population and activity unsettles the natural order of the ecosystem,” said Nhachi.
He added that the tourism industry in Zimbabwe is nature based, with wildlife and other natural attractions being central to its development and progress. However, climate variability and change have posed significant threats to the bio-physical environment, which in turn threatens and undermines the ecological capacity to ensure sustainable wildlife survival in the form of flora and fauna.
“ZimParks and organisations such as International Fund for Animal Welfare ( IFAW) have been working to adapt and counter climate change impacts through practical community based solutions. The solution to Climate Change in game reserves include Land use planning which provides an excellent tool for the management of a variety of influential human activities by controlling and designing the ways in which humans use land and natural resources can interact.
“Retrofitting and redesigning of some of the national park facilities and infrastructure to ensure climate resilience and sustainable tourism. He said there is need continued investment into research and innovation in national parks is also recommended to foster the protection of natural heritage”
Speaking on the growing Elephant population, Nhachi said there is need for some control to ensure the balance of nature.
“The over growing population of any species is not a welcome phenomenon on the balance of nature. Therefore the Overpopulation of elephants can cause multiple problems. Not only is tree cover destroyed but the whole ecosystem is changed, with knock-on effects for other species, from beetles to birds. Blind ‘protection’ of what is supposed to be an endangered species makes little conservation sense.
“Therefore, the population has to be controlled. I know there are a disagreements on methods but the bottom line is the control is imperative. Historical estimates of elephant populations in Zimbabwe Parks are a bit shaky, but everyone agrees that today’s numbers are the highest ever. In the past years populations have been growing at between 6 and 9% per year, although this may be plateauing in both Gonarezhou and Hwange National Park. “
He added that the government should provide funds that should allow movement of these animals to areas that they are less populated as this is another way of preserving the species that are now endangered in other parts of the world.