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from DANIEL JONES in Victoria Falls
VICTORIA FALLS – ZIMBABWE’s safari industry is hobbling back after more than a year of disruption by the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.

Hwange National Park, the largest natural reserve in the Southern African country, is leading the revival after some restrictions were eased.

The resumption of a new flight service between Victoria Falls, recently accorded city status, also in Matabeleland North Province like Hwange, and Kasane in neighbouring Botswana has boosted the recovery.

Mack Air, a Botswana airline, launched the service, which connects the Zimbabwean tourist destinations with the Botswana’s Chobe National Park.

“The situation is improving and it looks very positive especially as airlines have started coming,” said ecologist, Mark Russell.

He chairs the Gwayi Valley Conservation Area, an affiliate of the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe (SOAZ).

The global pandemic had caused about 90 percent loss of business due to cancellations and postponement of bookings.

Russell said prior to COVID-19, the hunting industry realised an average of US$100 million per year.

“We hope the resumption of regional airlines will bring a change of fortunes as some inquiries are coming through,” he said.

European countries, Russia and the United States are Zimbabwe’s main source market for tourism as well as safari business.

Russell bemoaned escalation of poaching activities during the lockdown period.

He called for the involvement of local communities that live adjacent to game parks, in the management of wildlife.

“They benefit from tourism operations. They better appreciate the value of wildlife.”

Game parks make up 13 percent of Zimbabwe’s total land area of 390 757km².

Hwange covers more than 14 000 km².

It is home to the iconic Big 5 game and over 100 mammal species, giving a rare treat to visitors.

According to a 2014 survey, there are about 50 000 elephants in Hwange National Park against a carrying capacity of about 15 000. In 2021, the total population of elephants reached a whopping 100, 000.

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has expressed concern this causes human-wildlife conflict.

The park suffered a more than 2 percent drop in visits because of the global pandemic, with 13 914 clients visiting in 2020 down from 37 070 in 2019.

– CAJ News