Sept. 7, 2020 (GIN) – Wildlife and the environment will be at risk in Zimbabwe’s biggest game park now that the government has given the green light to several Chinese companies seeking to launch polluting coal-mining activities in the fragile animal preserve.
Zimbabwe is already on the hook to explain the deaths of 22 elephants just as the mining concessions were awarded to several Chinese companies in Hwange National Park.
Environmentalists now fear the mining activities will harm the environment and worsen human-wildlife conflict as animals move to get away from disturbances to their habitats.
Zimbabwe uses hydro-generated electricity but recent droughts, worsened by climate change, have meant less capacity for the country as well as neighboring Zambia from the Kariba Dam.
Even as China’s investment in renewable energy projects has soared, making them one of the world’s leaders in solar, for example, Chinese companies have been building hundreds of coal plants abroad, some in countries that currently burn little or no coal.
Last year, Kenyan judges stopped a Chinese-backed scheme to build Kenya and East Africa’s first coal plant because the owners had failed to conduct a thorough assessment of the plant’s impact on Lamu, an idyllic archipelago in the country’s northeast.
The Hwange National Park is home to elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, giraffes and other rare species. Zhongxin Coal Mining Group and Afrochine Smelting received permission from the government to begin environmental impact assessments for drilling, land clearance, road building and geological surveys at two proposed sites inside the park, which is home to almost 10% of Africa’s remaining wild elephants.
It could devastate safari tourism, which is a vital source of income for local people.
The mysterious deaths of the elephants in Zimbabwe appear similar to the deaths last month of more than 275 elephants in neighboring Botswana. Scientists are still investigating the deaths of the elephants in Botswana’s Okavango Delta area and poaching, poisoning and anthrax have been ruled out.
Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population, estimated at 156,000 and Zimbabwe has the second largest, estimated at 85,000. Last year about 200 elephants in Zimbabwe died of starvation as a result of the country’s drought.