Cross-border thieves target Zimbabwe’s game reserves 

Source: Cross-border thieves target Zimbabwe’s game reserves –

By Nokuthaba Dlamini for The Standard

Cross-border thieves target water infrastructure such as solar panels and pumps at boreholes in three game reserves in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province, supporting conservation efforts to save wildlife from the effects of frequent droughts in the region.

Several solar panels have been stolen from boreholes across Hwange National Park, Kazuma Pan National Park and Zambezi National Park by suspected thieves from neighboring Zambia.

Trevor Lane, whose organization, Bhejane Trust, has been leading the way in mobilizing funds to drill boreholes and install solar panels to power the pumps in the three wildlife parks, said the theft of solar panels during Covid-19 lockdowns has increased.

“It’s very discouraging and disconcerting to drive up to a solar panel and see it destroyed and missing panels,” Lane said.

“And just when you think you have everything under control, a very determined band of Zambian thieves, armed with crowbars and hacksaws, have looted and stolen panels and pumps all along the upper Zambezi region, including Chamabonda Vlei.

“They use a combination of cutting with the hacksaws and brute force with the crowbars to break the frames that hold the panels.”

Thieves damaged four solar panels at a watering hole in Zambezi National Park while trying to remove them.

They also tried to steal a pump on the site.

“They then knocked Chamabonda two and left empty-handed again, cutting the bottom frame completely but breaking the panels open to get them out,” Lane said.

“Such trends are taking place in our parks and we fear that during the summer from August to October, our elephants in particular will have a harder time because these thieves seem to have no respect for them.

“The more they destroy these solar systems on a daily basis, the less we will be able to provide water to these elephants that depend on these boreholes, and that’s disappointing.”

The director of the Bhejani Trust said Zambian authorities are not cooperating as they try to investigate the rampant thefts.

“We know the villages the thieves come from, we have some names and you can guarantee that all the villagers in Zambia along the riverbank know what’s going on,” Lane said.

“The Zambians are consistently uncooperative in the field of theft and poaching along the Zambezi and in Hwange.

“We also have local poachers targeting our wild solar panels.

“We report every incident with the police on both sides, but there has been no arrest or prosecution yet.”

The value of stolen solar panels and pumps has been estimated at $20,000 (£16,600). Bhejane Trust operates 46 solar-powered boreholes, two on windmills and one electric pump in the three game reserves.

On days when there are no outages, the organization pumps nearly a million gallons of water a day for a target population of 20,000 elephants.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo said water shortages in game reserves are the root of conflict between humans and wildlife.

In 2019, 200 elephants in Hwange National Park died from water shortages due to a severe drought.

“We’ve lost too many people to animals like elephants, who wander from parks to communities in search of water and food,” Farawo said.

“So in such thefts we will see an increasing number of fatalities and destruction of infrastructure and these are issues that need to be addressed.

“We will continue to put our rangers on the ground to monitor such illegal activity.”

Climate change has made droughts frequent in Zimbabwe and Matabeleland North is one of the driest regions in the country.

This article is presented here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Program funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate.